Sunday, January 26, 2014

Statewide smoking ban is 'very important' to improving Kentucky's health, state public-health commissioner says

A statewide law to protect people from secondhand smoke is "very important" for improving the overall health of Kentucky, the state's public-health commissioner said on the latest edition of KET's "Connections" interview show.

Though some localities have smoking ordinances, they are not consistent, and most Kentuckians aren't protected from smokers, who make up more than 28 percent of the adult population, Dr. Stephanie Mayfield Gibson told host Renee Shaw. "We know that it's been part of the culture but we also have the statistics to show us that clean air will help us to do better overall."

Asked about property rights, one of the main objections to smoking bans, Mayfield said, "I'm a health official, so I look at the fact that in the nation we have 49,000 people a year we believe who die from exposure to secondhand smoke." She noted that soon after Lexington passed a ban 10 years ago, heart attacks and emergency-room visits for asthma declined significantly.

Asked if a higher cigarette tax is the next logical step, Mayfield said higher taxes do curb smoking but "It's going to take more than one thing to do it," including "coordinated school efforts," since 24 percent of Kentucky high-school students smoke.

"It's going to take a variety of activities," she said. "I think it's going to take all hands on deck with a variety of measures." Noting that smoking is more prevalent among lower-income people, she added, "There's a lot of education that ends to be done."

The half-hour interview, which touched on other issues including trans fats, will air again Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 a.m. ET on KET2.

Statewide smoking-ban legislation has not garnered the votes to get a vote in either chamber of the General Assembly, but advocates say it has a better chance than ever this year. The legislation is House Bill 173, sponsored by Reps. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and Julie R. Adams, R-Louisville.

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