State Sen. Ralph Alvarado Pushing Skeptical GOP Colleagues to Back Statewide Smoking Ban

Share

Posted by . See more posts about: Health Impact, Smoke Free Policy

HERALD-LEADER | JOHN CHEVES | FEBRUARY 19, 2015

A proposed statewide indoor smoking ban might continue its historic movement through the General Assembly.

Supporters of House Bill 145 — which the Democratic-led House passed a week ago — say they want it assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, led by Republican senators who back the ban.

On Thursday, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, the committee’s vice chairman, said he hoped to persuade the Senate’s Republican majority that HB 145 was necessary. The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, also supports the bill.

“We keep talking this winter about the impact of heroin addiction, which is truly horrible, no doubt about it,” said Alvarado, R-Winchester, who is a doctor. “But at the same time, with smoking, we’ve got 950 deaths a year (in Kentucky) from exposure to secondhand smoke.

“I can’t help but feel that we would make a real improvement in the state’s overall health if we could get this passed in some form.”

The Senate has not formally received the bill from the House, so no decision has been made about a committee assignment, said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.

Stivers said he personally dislikes tobacco smoke and tries to avoid it when he goes out in public. But he said he’s equally uncomfortable with a statewide ban on smoking in indoor places that are open to the public.

“It becomes a real problem when government starts stepping in to tell private businesses what to do,” Stivers said. “Some business owner put his or her own money into that restaurant, that bar, that bowling alley, and we’re going to tell them how to run it?”

The House made changes to the bill last Friday to make it more acceptable to conservative lawmakers, such as exemptions for local smoking bans already in place — even if they’re weaker than the statewide ban — and for tobacco shops, cigar bars and private clubs.

Alvarado said he was willing to suggest other possible compromises in the Senate if he thought they would secure enough votes, such as allowing local governments to opt out of the statewide smoking ban if they choose.

“The concerns I’m hearing from people have to do with maintaining local control and protecting individual rights,” he said.

“I’m ready to make my plea and then see how everybody feels about it,” Alvarado said. “Obviously, we’re hopeful. We’re ready to get something done on this. As a physician, I recognize the benefit it’s going to have both fiscally and in terms of public health.”

The sponsor of HB 145 is Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, who lobbied her House colleagues for five years to win a floor vote. About two dozen cities and counties throughout Kentucky already have local smoking bans, including Lexington and Louisville.

Read the article online.