Proposed Workplace Smoking Ban Clears Kentucky House Panel

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LEDGER ENQUIRER | BRUCE SCHREINER | FEBRUARY 5, 2015

A proposed statewide smoking ban in public buildings and workplaces picked up bipartisan support Thursday in clearing a House panel, but still faces some stiff resistance in a state with a long history of producing and consuming large amounts of tobacco.

The bill’s advocates included Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom and two Republican senators: Ralph Alvarado, a physician from Winchester, and Julie Raque Adams of Louisville.

“Smoking is killing Kentucky,” Alvarado told the House Health and Welfare Committee.

The bill cleared the panel with solid Democratic support, while Republicans were divided on the issue.

Kentucky has some of the nation’s highest rates for smoking, cancer deaths and heart disease. Alvarado said an estimated 950 people die every year in Kentucky due to secondhand smoke exposure. Smoking-related illnesses cost the state tens of millions of dollars in health care costs, the bill’s supporters said.

The legislation would apply a blanket approach to banning smoking in Kentucky workplaces, replacing the current patchwork of local smoking bans in Kentucky.

“It’s just asking you to step outside 15 feet,” said Westrom, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Some 41 Kentucky communities had smoke-free ordinances at the start of 2015, according to the Kentucky League of Cities.

Westrom said the pace of local smoke-free ordinances hasn’t been fast enough.

“We’ve been waiting for 15 years for local communities to take the initiative to address this topic,” the Lexington Democrat told reporters.

Similar bills cleared a House committee in past years but failed to get a vote in the Democratic-led House.

Westrom said she thinks this year will be different. Many of her colleagues are still undecided, she said, but she sounded confident of winning enough support for House passage if given the chance.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo later said he would like to see a House vote on the measure.

Even if the bill clears the House, it appears to face much longer odds in the Republican-led Senate.

“There is not much sentiment here to pass a smoking ban this session,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

Thayer said opponents take the approach of letting “the free market work this out.”

“If people want to go to a place that smokes, they can make that decision,” he told reporters. “If they want to go to a place with a smoking ban, they can make that decision.”

Alvarado said the private sector has failed to solve what looms as a crucial public health and workplace safety issue. He portrayed himself as a staunch supporter of private property rights, but added: “The rights of business owners must be balanced with their patrons’ and employees’ rights to a safe environment.”

The bill includes fines for smokers and business owners failing to comply with the ban.

Kentucky remains the nation’s top producer of burley tobacco, an ingredient in many cigarettes, though production has dropped sharply in the past decade.

The legislation is HB145.