Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advocates hope push in rural areas will help pass statewide smoking ban, at least in the state House

By Justin Richter
University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information

Kentucky has had a love affair with both growing and smoking tobacco, but supporters of a statewide smoking ban believe that smoke should not be shared with people who don’t smoke.

Rep. Susan Westrom
For the fourth straight year, Democratic State Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington is filing a bill for a smoking ban in workplaces and enclosed public places. She and her allies are focusing increased attention in the state’s rural areas, where smoking is more prevalent.

This summer Westrom visited several towns, from Owensboro to tiny Sandy Hook, to talk with fellow legislators and their constituents about the bill. “We want to be able to access legislators in the rural areas, meet them on their own turf,” showing them their constituents care about secondhand smoke, Westrom said.

A third of the adults in Eastern Kentucky smoke, and almost a third of those in Western Kentucky do, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing telephone survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're going to need a lot more legislative support, and we're pretty much doing that one legislator at a time," Smoke-Free Kentucky Coordinator Betsy James said at last month's meeting of Kentucky Voices for Health, an association of health lobbying groups. "This is sort of a rural-urban issue, so we do need help out in the counties."

Advocates are hoping to build on the passage of smoking bans in 28 Kentucky cities and 10 counties.  “We’ve got 38 different locations that have smoke-free ordinances and we want to meet the standard we have in Louisville and Lexington,” Westrom said in an interview. 

Louisville and Lexington were two of the first cities to ban smoking in enclosed public places.  Each had exemptions, including bars and clubs, but by 2008 both went to comprehensive bans, unlike some other jurisdictions in the state that have large exceptions.

The Hopkins County Board of Health, for example, passed a regulation in 2009 that permits individuals from smoking in workplaces but has large exceptions that allow individuals to smoke in private clubs, privately rented restaurants, as well as hotel and motel rooms that are rented.

Westrom is working with Dr. Ellen Hahn, director of the Tobacco Policy Research Program at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, who has led the efforts to pass local smoke-free measures.  After working for years on local bans, she is now working on both local and state fronts. 

Work towards smoke-free public enclosed places has gained ground steadily since Hahn started 10 years ago, but most of the state remains unaffected by any smoking ordinances or regulations.

According to a booklet prepared by the College of Nursing and the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, “70 percent of Kentuckians are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplaces and public places.”

Smoking is more common in Kentucky than any other state, with 28.3 percent of adults smoking, compared to 19 percent nationwide according to the CDC. Kentucky Youth Advocates recently released a study done that revealed Kentucky has one of the highest rates of smoking during pregnancy in the nation. 

Westrom and Hahn have been working together since 2011, when Westrom first filed a state-wide smoking ban bill. The first bill did not get out of the House Health and Welfare Committee, but the next two bills did. 

Last year, her bill was then sent to the Judiciary Committee, a sign that it was being taken a bit more seriously, because that panel was more skeptical of it and raised issues that if resolved could help the bill pass.

In 2013 the bill was not given a vote on the House floor, presumably because it did not have enough votes to pass.  Westrom is anticipating getting past the House floor and into the Senate this year. “I think we’re really close in the Senate,” she said, noting that almost every Senate district has at least one smoke-free community.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has supported Westrom’s bill since it was introduced three years ago.  “Over 90 percent of respondents expressed support for a smoke-free law in Kentucky in a recent Chamber survey,” said Ashli Watts, the business lobby’s public-affairs manager.

The chamber is advocating a smoke-free workplace largely because of lost worker productivity due to illnesses causes or worsened by smoking. Research by The Ohio State University's College of Public Health found that every U.S. smoker is costing his /her company an extra $6,000 per year.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said he will continue to support a statewide smoking ban, and that it would be a help to business.  House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he hopes the House will pass the bill.

Stumbo spoke at a panel discussion held by the Kentucky Hospital Association with Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.  Stivers said individual businesses should be able to allow smoking, but said that he would not impose his view on the rest of the Senate.

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