Clear the Air

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THE COURIER-JOURNAL | OP-ED | FEBRUARY 12, 2015

If Kentucky lawmakers noodling a bill to make public places smoke-free need any more motivation to do the right thing for their constituents, and the state’s bottom line, they should read Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The study led by American Cancer Society researchers concludes the current estimate of deaths caused by cigarette smoking each year, about half a million, may be too low.

Researchers uncovered 14 causes of death associated with tobacco smoking not previously attributed to smoking, and possibly an extra 60,000 deaths annually.

The Kentucky House is poised to take up HB 145 on the floor. The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, had been scrambling to get enough votes for it to pass, 51 of 100 members, but found out this week House leadership was requiring 55 votes, according to Kentucky Health News, a reporting project of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Lawmakers need to quit wavering.

Certainly there are no health reasons for delay: Kentucky leads the nation in its rate of adult smoking and in lung cancer deaths, and is very high in youth-smoking rates.

Making public places smoke free saves lives by discouraging smoking and limiting exposure to second-hand smoke, reducing risks to lung cancer and other illnesses significantly.

Democrats balked last year because they were afraid they might lose seats in the House, or perhaps even the lose the House, if there were a voter backlash. Democrats retained the House and lawmakers are not up for re-election this year, giving them some breathing room to improve breathing for the rest of us.

Recall, also, that polling has shown that sizable majority of the state’s adults favor a smoking ban indoors at such places as stores, restaurants, bars and offices.

Some silly proposed amendments should be swept aside, as well.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, for example, wants to allow local governments to opt out. How’s that different from what we have now?

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, wants to exempt E-cigarettes. But they are addictive, have not been proven safe and emit hazardous particles.

Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, wants to exempt small, family-owned bars. But it is hard to see how banning smoking in corporate owned bars but allowing it at a neighborhood hangout would pass constitutional muster.

These and other amendments appear to be filed to cause mischief rather than do any good.

Advocates of smoke-free workplaces have had the support of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and feel they have a good chance of finding cooperation in the Senate — if the bill gets there.

As Michael Rust of the Kentucky Hospital Association wrote in The Courier-Journal on Dec. 28, it’s time for Kentucky to become more attractive to potential businesses and visitors by providing clean air and healthy work environments, and cut back on the estimated $1.5 billion annually that the state pays for treating smoking-related illnesses.

We urge lawmakers to not forget the medical science, which now suggests we are paying even more for smoking, and to put their constituents’ health and the state’s economy first.

Read the article online.