A new poll about attitudes toward smoke-free legislation in Kentucky confirms what has been clear for at least a few years now. Most adults — 66 percent, according to the Kentucky Health Impact Poll released Monday — support a statewide ban on smoking for indoor public places.
Unfortunately, some state lawmakers have stubbornly resisted public opinion, along with overwhelming health and financial considerations, in the debate over passing legislation to protect Kentuckians from secondhand smoke in restaurants, stores and offices.
As the General Assembly convenes this week in Frankfort, there ought to be some hope that 2016 will be the year Kentucky breaks this deadlock.
The key to winning passage could start with a recognition of the economic toll smoking takes on state government and Kentucky businesses. Medical costs related to tobacco use exceed $1.9 billion annually, and nearly $500 million of that is covered by Medicaid, according to Smoke-Free Kentucky.
Reducing these expenses would make a great deal of sense as Gov. Matt Bevin formulates plans for changing his predecessor’s Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Given the poll results about support for a statewide smoking ban, Bevin wouldn’t risk any political capital with Kentuckians if he encourages the Republican Senate to pass the legislation. His support would be grounded in fiscal responsibility.
The Republican Senate has been the last obstacle for a smoke-free bill. A year ago, the House narrowly passed a statewide ban but the Senate failed to advance the bill out of committee.
For two straight years, Republican leaders have assigned the legislation to a committee chaired by a lawmaker they knew would let the bill die in committee. In 2014, it was the Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. Last year, it was assigned to the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, headed by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London.
The proper assignment would be the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville. She supports the measure and would ensure it gets a fair hearing.
Although 24 communities have passed comprehensive bans, Smoke-Free Kentucky estimates 67 percent of the state’s residents live in an area without protection from secondhand smoke in public indoor places.
It’s time to provide protection to the entire state and to reduce the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses. Kentucky can no longer afford this burden.
Kentucky New Era