Statewide Smoking Ban Would Save Lives and Taxpayer Dollars

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LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER | RALPH ALVARADO | JANUARY 28, 2015

Smoking is killing Kentucky, literally and fiscally.

As surely everyone knows by now, we consistently have some of the highest youth and adult smoking rates in the nation. The staggering statistics and multi-billion dollar price tag have been highlighted repeatedly.

There is one relatively simple thing we can do to address this enormous problem: We need to pass a statewide smoke-free workplace law.

It won’t cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, it will save our state millions (and eventually billions) of dollars by reducing health care costs.

Improving the health of our citizens will also allow Kentucky to attract higher wage jobs and much–needed investment into our communities.

This is one of the most important issues for Kentucky to address in the 2015 General Assembly.

As individuals and as a commonwealth, we must do more to reduce smoking. But at the very least, Kentucky can ensure the rights of those who don’t smoke are protected.An estimated 950 people die every year in our state due to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke exposure alone costs Kentucky more than $128 million every year.

Children unnecessarily suffer repeated ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma as a result of smoking exposures. It is a proven cause of heart disease, cancer and stroke in non-smoking adults. While people certainly can choose whether to patronize a business that allows smoking, why should employees have to choose between their health and a paycheck?

To say someone “can just work somewhere” else is not just insensitive, it ignores reality. Jobs aren’t easy to come by, and especially not in rural Kentucky where options are even more limited.

As a conservative Republican, I believe in limited government, but this critical public health and workplace safety issue has not been solved by the private sector. I am a staunch proponent of private property rights, but the rights of business owners must be balanced with their patrons’ and employees’ right to a safe environment.

While some jobs are inherently dangerous, secondhand smoke is not necessary to work being done in restaurants, bars or any other workplace. There is no reason to subject anyone to the 7,000 chemicals in secondhand smoke, about 70 of which cause cancer.

Passing a law that simply says smokers must step outside to smoke where they will not harm others will easily eliminate this proven health hazard. Some say smoke-free policy should remain a local issue. However, after 15 years, local smoke-free laws cover only one-third of our population. This is a statewide problem that demands a statewide solution.

Smoke-free policies, here and nationwide, have led to fewer heart and asthma attacks and lower smoking rates among youth and adults. Despite opposition, we have found that business does not suffer in these communities, and it often improves. Why would we wait another minute to extend those benefits to the entire state?

Allowing smoking in the workplace anywhere prevents us from being the thriving, economically and physically healthy state we all want Kentucky to be.

I am asking my colleagues to help me — along with lawmakers from both parties and every region of the state, the public health and medical community, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and over 500 other organizations — to make a smoke-free Kentucky a reality.

The General Assembly can save more lives with this legislation than I can throughout my entire medical career.

Please call your legislators at 1-800-372-7181 and ask them to pass a smoke-free law that covers all indoor workplaces and public places.