By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Smoking would be banned in all public places and indoor workplaces in Kentucky under a bill approved Tuesday by a House committee, but a sponsor of the bill said it is unlikely to become law this year.
The House Health and Welfare Committee voted 10-2 to approve HB 289 at a special meeting Tuesday. It now goes to the full House.
Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said after Tuesday’s vote that she doesn’t think there are enough votes to pass the measure in the Republican-controlled Senate even though Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, has said previously that he supports a statewide smoking ban.
Westrom said the bill is unlikely to get a vote in the full House, because leaders in the Democratic-controlled chamber are hesitant to call a vote on the controversial measure, knowing that it will be rejected by the Senate. All 100 members of the House are up for re-election this year.
Westrom said it might take another year for legislators to become educated on the issue.
“This is a difficult issue for some of the rural legislators,” Westrom said. “Sometimes it takes time to get used to a message before you truly hear it.”
Approximately 34 Kentucky communities — including Lexington — have smoking bans in place. Twenty-three states have passed similar statewide smoking bans.
Roughly 48 percent of the national population now lives in areas with smoking bans. In Kentucky, that number is only 34 percent, according to Smoke Free Kentucky, a coalition of 209 health organizations and other agencies pushing the statewide ban.
Proponents of statewide smoking bans say there is conclusive evidence that secondhand smoke can cause serious, long-term health effects for those exposed to secondhand smoke.
Dr. Sylvia Cerel-Suhl, of the American Heart Association, said there are “thousands and thousands” of pages of research that conclusively links secondhand smoke to a host of health problems, including heart attacks and asthma in non-smokers.
David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, told the panel on Tuesday that chamber polls of Kentucky businesses’ show that more than 70 percent support a smoking ban. Businesses pay approximately 40 percent of the taxes in Kentucky and much of those taxes are going to pay for health-related illnesses connected to smoking, he said.
“I think it is the best thing that we as Kentuckians can do right now to start to turn the tide and move toward a healthier Kentucky,” Adkisson said.
But banning smoking in public places is controversial in some parts of Kentucky.
In Northern Kentucky, the Campbell County Fiscal Court voted in favor of a smoking ban in December 2010. But a newly elected Campbell Fiscal Court overturned the smoking ban in February 2011 over complaints that it interfered with the rights of businesses and individuals.
Opponents also frequently suggest that banning smoking — particularly in bars — will result in a loss of business.
Smoke Free Kentucky has cited several studies showing that smoking bans have limited effects on businesses, particularly restaurants and bars. One study after Lexington went smoke-free in 2004 showed that the hospitality industry had not been affected by the smoke-free law.
Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he voted against the measure because he thought government was overstepping its reach.
“There are personal property rights that are being trampled,” Waide said.
Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said he was voting for the measure on behalf of the 75 percent of Kentuckians who do not smoke and are subjected to secondhand smoke.
“I have a right to breathe clean fresh air,” Burch said. “I’m going to vote for the 75 percent.”
Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, also voted against the measure.