Ky. House Put Public Interest First

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HERALD-LEADER | OP-ED | FEBRUARY 17,2015

Something historic, some might even say amazing, happened last Friday in Kentucky’s Capitol.

By a vote of 51-46, the House of Representatives approved a law that would protect workers on the job and the public in general from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

Before we get into the muddling amendment the House approved or contemplate the retrograde attitudes waiting in the Senate, let’s just pause to savor the moment.

Kentucky’s long subservience to the tobacco industry, the thousands of families and farms that depended on the deadly crop have frustrated efforts to deal with the huge burden that tobacco use imposes on public health and economic productivity in Kentucky.

Opinion polls show that Kentuckians strongly support a statewide smoke-free law, not surprising where almost everyone has lost a friend or loved one to cancer or heart disease. Tobacco’s role in the economy has shrunk.

But bucking the tobacco industry — or any powerful entrenched interest — is hard for lawmakers. So the House’s vote to put the public first is worthy of applause.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, began pushing a smoke-free law five years ago. Three times, the House Health and Welfare Committee approved the bill only to have it die without receiving a House vote.

This time Westrom’s perseverance was rewarded. House Bill 145 withstood a rigorous debate and came out a winner.

Unfortunately, the House also approved an amendment that would allow weaker local smoking bans to stand after the statewide law takes effect, eliminating the consistency across local boundaries that’s a big advantage of a statewide law.

The House wisely defeated another amendment, offered by Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, that would have exempted electronic cigarettes.

Lee and Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, were the only members of the Fayette County delegation voting against the bill, which would ban smoking in workplaces and enclosed public spaces, including restaurants, bars and hotels.

Notably, both Lexington and Georgetown have smoking bans. But only about a third of Kentuckians are protected by local smoking ordinances, which is why a statewide law is critical.

In the Senate, Health and Welfare Committee chairwoman Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, is sponsoring a clean smoke-free bill without the exemption for weaker local smoking bans. Half the states and the District of Columbia already have smoke-free laws.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, who has spoken of the toll cancer takes on his constituents, should help make Kentucky the next state to go smoke-free.

Read the article online.