Liberty Repeals Smoking Ban; Public Opinion Swayed Council Members to Revoke the Ban

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KENTUCKY HEALTH NEWS | DECEMBER 29, 2014

Liberty city council members voted 5-1 to repeal a city-wide smoking ban in public buildings that was passed narrowly in November. The law was to go into effect Jan. 1, Larry Rowell reports for The Casey County News.

The ban had passed in November when Mayor Steve Sweeney cast the deciding vote because the council was split 2-2. Two council members were absent at the meeting, Rowell reports in a separate article.

A special meeting was called Dec. 17 for first reading of an ordinance to rescind the ban and a new restaurant tax; both passed on second reading Dec. 22, but Sweeney vetoed the restaurant measure, which passed 4-2. He could not veto the smoking measure because it passed 5-1. Council Member Brian Beeler stood by his original vote for the ban, but Member Andy Lawhorn switched to oppose it.

“I stand by what I voted for,” said Lawhorn, who lost the November election for mayor to Council Member Steven Brown. “We sit here and say that second hand smoke is not harmful. I smoke. If we can actually say it’s not harmful to us or other people and ‘other people’ being the key word, we’re in denial. That’s just a fact.” But he said he changed his vote because of public opinion.

“I’ve heard a lot of outpouring conversations from the public that’s come to me that was against it. And I feel that maybe I voted my conscience and what I believe kind of before I got any feedback, good quality feedback, from the public on what they wanted,” Lawhorn said.

Several Liberty residents attended the meeting and voiced their opinions about the issue, Rowell reports. One woman whose husband died from complications of smoking said public places should be made safe, and Jelaine Harlow, a health educator from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, said it’s a public health issue, much like keeping sewage out of water supplies.

But County Attorney Tom Weddle, a smoker, objected that the ordinance would not allow him to smoke in his office after hours, when no one else is around. Councilman Doug Johnson, a non-smoker who has made two businesses smoke-free, agreed with Weddle and said to people who don’t like secondhand smoke, “You should boycott that place until they yield to no smoking but we should not mandate that to the owner. If we mandate that, we can mandate anything. It’s their personal space, they own it even though it’s open to the public. It is privately owned.”

Studies have found that 65 percent of Kentuckians support banning smoking in indoor public places, but despite this support only 23 Kentucky communities have smoke-free policies that cover all workplaces and enclosed public places, according to the Smoke-Free Kentucky website. This breaks down to 32 percent of Kentuckians covered by strong local smoke-free laws.

Read the article online.