Editorial: Greenup has Chance to Move Statewide Smoking Ban Along

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THE INDEPENDENT | OP-ED | FEBRUARY 19, 2015

Nearly a decade has passed since the Ashland Board of City Commissioners approved an ordinance banning indoor smoking in most restaurants and other businesses.  Although no city commissioners were defeated for re-election because of their votes to restrict public smoking, no other city or county in northeastern Kentucky has followed Ashland’s lead by approving local laws to restrict smoking.

However, that may soon change. It is clear a new study released by the Greenup County Health Department is aimed at gaining support for new restrictions on smoking in this region, and it presents a compelling case for protecting people from being exposed to secondhand smoke when dining out, watching an indoor sporting event or just shopping in retail stores.

The new study shows indoor air pollution in Greenup County exceeds nearby cities’ reports and is higher than national standards for outdoor air quality.

The Greenup County Health Department partnered with Kentucky Cancer Consortium to assess air quality in five Greenup County workplaces, creating a broad, general reference to county workplaces for the study’s purposes.

Air samples measuring fine particles from secondhand smoke were measured from Nov. 8 until Dec. 12, 2013.

Major findings from the report showed Greenup County indoor air pollution is four times higher than air quality reports for Lexington and Georgetown workplaces and is two times higher than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for outdoor air.

Georgetown and Lexington are two of a growing number of Kentucky cities and counties to ban or restrict indoor smoking.

Even in the state where tobacco was once the major cash crop, support for limits on public smoking continues to increase. Since Lexington became the first Kentucky city to approve an ordinance restricting public smoking in 2005, 41 Kentucky communities have passed ordinances aimed at eliminating smoking in public facilities. The GCHD study groups Ashland among the 25 Kentucky cities that have approved what is referred to as the most “comprehensive” ordinances that mandate 100 percent of workplaces and enclosed public places be smoke free. The Kentucky House of Representatives recently approved a bill,  albeit narrowly, that would impose a statewide restriction on smoking in public.

The pro-business and politically influential Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has made a state law restricting public smoking one of its top legislative priorities for the past three years, and statewide polls show nearly two-thirds of  adults support such a ban. In fact, if Kentucky voters could petition to place issues on the ballot like voters in other states can, we have no doubt state voters already would have approved a statewide smoking ban. But petitioning to allow voters to decide the fate of controversial issues is not an option in Kentucky.

The House-approved bill restricting smoking is expected to die in the Senate without a vote. Conservative senators who hold a majority in the Senate are philosophically opposed to restricting the use of a legal product like tobacco, although they do not oppose restricting the sale of alcohol and other legal products.

Paul Hunt of the Greenup County Health Department said the Greenup County-based study is the first indoor air pollution study for the community and “demonstrates that workers and patrons in Greenup County are exposed to harmful levels of secondhand smoke.”

We think some of the studies detailing the harmful effects of secondhand smoke are a bit overstated. We have no doubt secondhand smoke is harmful to the health of many forced to inhale it, but it is difficult to point to any individual and say without a doubt he or she died as a result of secondhand smoke.

However, we know of individuals who become ill as a direct result of secondhand smoke. Protecting the health of those individuals by banning smoking in public is every bit as important as requiring drivers and passengers to buckle up is in protecting the health of Kentuckians.

There’s an old adage that says, “Your rights end where my nose begins.” As long as non-smokers are confronted with the smoke produced by nearby, that adage provides a strong case for restricting public smoking.

While we hope we are proven wrong, we don’t expect the Greenup County Health Department’s study will give members of the Greenup County Fiscal Court and the elected leaders of all six of the county’s cities the courage to approve restrictions on smoking in public. Of course, such measures will be opposed by some, but polls show supporters of smoking bans outnumber the opponents.

As for a state law restricting smoking in all 120 counties, we remain convinced  such a law eventually will be enacted. It just won’t be in 2015. Until a state law is approved, it is up to supporters to affect change at the grassroots level, city by city and county by county. Already more than half of Kentucky residents live in communities where public smoking is restricted. Greenup County has an opportunity to increase that number.

Read the article online.