Poll: Support for Statewide Ban Sees Uptick

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THE DAILY NEWS | LAUREL WILSON | JANUARY 7, 2015

Public support for a statewide ban on smoking in most public places has increased slightly from last year, according to a new poll.

A Kentucky Health Issues Poll released Monday found 66 percent of Kentucky adults favor a statewide smoking ban, while 29 percent oppose it. That’s up from 65 percent in 2013, 59 percent in 2012, 54 percent in 2011 and 48 percent in 2010.

Research shows that a smoking ban can lead to changes in people’s behavior, ultimately making communities healthier and saving taxpayers money, said Dennis Chaney, director of the Barren River District Health Department.

“The fact that there is an increase (in support) indicates that more people are becoming aware and educated about tobacco use and the consequences of secondhand smoke,” he said.

Educating the public about smoking’s dangers can be a sensitive issue in Kentucky because the tobacco industry has historically been a big part of the state’s economy, Chaney said. That’s why efforts to implement smoking bans must be respectful of smokers, he said.

“It’s not about passing judgment on the smoker,” he said. “It’s about the scientific facts about the consequences.”

Glasgow was among the first cities in this part of the state to pass a public smoking ban. Bowling Green enacted its ordinance in 2011. Many restaurants and some businesses had already gone smoke-free before the enactment.

Kentucky’s large tobacco industry shouldn’t be an excuse for failing to pass a statewide smoking ban, said Carol Douglas, tobacco program coordinator at the health department.

“You can’t tell me Kentucky can’t do it, because North Carolina did it and they’re a big tobacco state,” Douglas said.

The health department conducts its own public opinion polls about a statewide smoking ban, and the results have also shown an increase in support for a ban, she said.

“It’s very consistent,” Douglas said. “This is not just people in the city. These are people in the counties. These are employees at worksites where smoking is still allowed. They’re trying to make their voice heard.”

She has seen more workplaces become smoke-free in recent years as people become more educated about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“They understand that worker health is a prime importance,” Douglas said. “In order to have healthier employees, they need to provide a healthy environment. Smoke can create health issues. Smoke can affect everyone because smoke spreads.”

A comprehensive statewide smoking ban would help reduce lung cancer cases and lessen heart attack risks, she said.

“All of those things help create a healthier environment for everyone,” she said. “It gives everyone a level playing field. You can’t walk next door (to another business) and smoke there.”

Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said the poll results show people are sending “a clear and consistent” message to their legislators that they support a statewide smoking ban.

“It’s a solid majority, when you’re talking about 66 percent,” Zepeda said.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo said this week that it’s time for a House floor vote on a statewide smoking ban, according to Kentucky Health News. Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, said he believes the issue will be discussed in the Senate during the 2015 legislative session.

“I think the issue is much more in doubt in the Senate,” Embry said. “There’s a number in the Senate who feel like that should be a local issue.”

He believes the decision to implement a smoking ban should be left up to individual cities and counties.

“The government closest to the people is best, in my opinion,” Embry said. “I really don’t think politicians from the state level should decide an issue statewide. I think it should come from the local level.”

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