As state lawmakers returned to Frankfort this week for organizational meetings leading up to the 2015 session, a health advocacy group released new poll results that show two-thirds of Kentuckians support a statewide ban on smoking in public places.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky said 66 percent of adults favored legislation to prohibit smoking in most public places, including stores, restaurants and offices. The Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati conducted the poll for the foundation and Interact for Health between Oct. 8 and Nov. 6. A year earlier, an identical poll showed 65 percent of Kentuckians favored a statewide smoking ban.
It is time to capitalize on the public’s support for smoke-free legislation. The poll found little difference among political parties. A statewide ban is favored by 68 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of independents.
Kentucky lawmakers — especially those from rural areas where tobacco interests have political influence and where residents value private property rights — have been reluctant to expose themselves to any backlash from opponents of smoke-free laws.
Unfortunately, this kind of political calculation ignores the heavy toll of tobacco on Kentucky’s health.
About one-fourth of Kentucky adults smoke, and we have high rates of lung cancer and heart disease. While it is true adults have the right to choose to smoke, an estimated 1,000 people die in the commonwealth every year from illnesses caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Last year, House members approved a smoke-free bill but the legislation died in the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. Obviously, Senate leaders expected Westerfield to let the bill languish. The appropriate assignment for the bill would have been the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by a supporter of the legislation. If the bill does land in Westerfield’s committee again, we hope he will ensure the measure advances to a floor vote.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive smoke-free laws, according to the American Lung Association.
It’s time for Kentucky to join them.
After lawmakers complete ethics training and take care of some organizational matters this week, they will recess for the rest of January and return on Feb. 3 for a 30-day session.
Constituents ought to take time this month to contact their senators and representatives about smoke-free legislation. It’s clear most already support a statewide smoking ban. It’s just not clear why lawmakers haven’t already removed the health risks associated with secondhand smoke.
Kentucky New Era editorials are the consensus opinion of the editorial board, which includes Publisher Taylor W. Hayes, Opinion Editor Jennifer P. Brown and Editor Eli Pace.