Supporters Say Statewide Smoking Ban Would Save Billions in Tax Dollars

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WDRB | LAWRENCE SMITH | DECEMBER 17, 2014

For the fifth time, supporters of a statewide smoking ban are taking their case to Kentucky’s Capitol. But this time, they’re adding a new argument.

During a hearing in the Interim Health and Welfare Committee, backers of a ban on smoking in public and in the workplace made their usual plea for protecting public health.

“Nine-hundred-fifty people in Kentucky die each year from secondhand smoke,” testified Wayne Meriwether of Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center in Leitchfield.

But with the state’s ever-tightening budget, supporters are now also using a dollars-and-cents approach; pointing to the billions spent by government and business on health care costs related to smoking.

“You’ve just shown me something that, quite candidly, that I had not come yet to fully recognize. Your indication that we could save up to two million, two billion. BILLION. BILLION dollars,” exclaimed Sen. Julian Carroll (D-Frankfort.)

While the case for a smoking ban appears to be gaining traction, some lawmakers believe it should be a local decision, and not an edict from Frankfort.

“The citizens have the opportunity to lobby their city council members and their magistrates to make their community smoke-free, and I support that,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon.)

Last year, the smoking ban passed committees in both the House and Senate, but never made it to a floor vote in either chamber. Supporters hope the new approach will light a fire.

“We have to start being innovative in ways that we can save taxpayer dollars in order to take care of our citizenry. And so I think there’s a real economic component to this year’s debate that has not been present before,” said Rep. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville.)

Adams was elected to the Senate in November, and will chair the Health and Welfare Committee.

The statewide smoking ban is still likely a long-shot for the next session, but as one longtime lawmaker put it, anything can happen here in Frankfort.

Read the article online.