When Lexington became the first Kentucky city to restrict public smoking in 2004, the stated purpose of that ordinance was simply to limit where people can smoke, not to convince individuals to quit smoking. However, a new study by researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing has found that more than three out of 10 smokers in Fayette County have kicked the habit since the ban took effect.

That’s amazing and certainly an unexpected side benefit of the smoking ban. If Ashland’s much newer smoking ban — which is more restrictive than Lexington’s ordinance — has a similar effect, then not just the health of non-smokers will benefit from an ordinance intended to protect them from second-hand smoke.

The UK study gathered information from 3,457 federal health interviews conducted in six Kentucky counties between 2001 and 2005. The federal health surveys found that 25.7 percent of Fayette County adults smoked before the ban, but in the months after the smoking ban was implemented, just 17.5 percent of Fayette County adults reported being smokers. That’s a drop of 32 percent.

Researchers compared federal health data from Lexington to that of five other counties without smoke-free laws at the time: Boone, Hardin, Kenton, Oldham and Woodford. While the smoking rate plummeted in Lexington, the percentage of smokers in the five comparison counties was unchanged, averaging 27.6 percent in those counties.

“What has been really interesting is how powerful this ordinance has been here,” said Ellen Hahn, a UK professor of nursing who pushed for the smoking ban and co-authored the report. “A 32 percent drop is a huge thing.”

Indeed, it is. Many — if not most — adult smokers would love to kick their addiction to nicotine, but their repeated attempts to do so have failed. If not being allowed to smoke in restaurants, in the workplace, and at ballgames convinces many to not smoke anywhere, then the health benefits of such bans are broader than expected.

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