Lawmakers Lagging on Smoke-Free Law

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HERALD-LEADER | OP-ED | FEBRUARY 10, 2015

When it comes to protecting Kentuckians from the health hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke, the public is way ahead of the legislature.

Statewide, a solid majority — 57 percent to 66 percent in recent polls — voices support for a law to clear the air in workplaces and other indoor public spaces, including restaurants and bars.

In the state that suffers most from lung cancer, the medical community is united behind a statewide smoking ban.

So is the business community, burdened by staggering medical costs and lost productivity from smoking-related disease and disability. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has supported a statewide smoking ban for years.

It’s time for the legislature to catch up.

For the past three years, Democrats in the House have used Republican opposition in the Senate as an excuse for not voting on the smoke-free bills advanced by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Some rural Democrats, it seems, fear repercussions at the polls if the House approves a smoke-free law and would rather avoid that risk if the bill is destined to die in the Senate.

Bowing to such fears is not leadership, however. Such timidity reenforces the cynical view that the Democratic House is driven not by principle or what’s best for Kentucky but purely by survivalist politics.

The House should show some courage and some leadership and do what the majority of lawmakers knows is right by approving House Bill 145.

Then let the Republicans who control the Senate explain why Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center, is wrong when he calls on lawmakers to ban smoking in workplaces because “prevention is always the best cure.”

The House should approve HB 145 then let the Senate leaders explain why the 90 percent of surveyed members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce who support a statewide smoking ban are wrong. And why the chamber is wrong when it says smoking’s “negative impact on public health and the economy is too great to ignore.”

Let the Senate explain why the Kentucky Supreme Court was wrong when, backed by decades of case law, it ruled that no government power is more important than the power to safeguard public health and that requiring employers to eliminate secondhand smoke from workplaces does not violate anyone’s property rights.

Let the Republicans who control the Senate explain why asking smokers to step outside to light up is more of a hardship than the cancer, heart disease, suffering and deaths imposed on restaurant servers and other workers by exposure to other people’s cigarette smoke.

Lawmakers have the chance to bring about profound gains in public health and Kentucky’s economy at almost no cost to taxpayers by becoming the 27th state to enact a smoke-free law.

What are they waiting for?