Time to Kick Ash Kentucky

Share

THE ENQUIRER | OP-ED | FEBRUARY 23, 2015

We wonder how Kentucky senators feel about restaurant health safety standards. Hopefully they’re not opposed to a health code, enshrined in the law of the commonwealth and enforced by inspections. Just like the rest of us, they want to know restaurateurs are held to health standards when serving senators their favorite E. coli-free steaks or salmonella-free salads. State law even requires inspection results of such standards be posted for the public to see, the better to shame and praise.

Yet some Kentucky senators who are lining up to smack down a proposed ban on smoking in restaurants and workplaces are championing their opposition as a defense of individual liberty. To them, restaurant owners must be free to allow smokers to light up in their establishments, with one senator even citing the Constitution as a justification. That’s nonsense. There’s no right to keep and bear cigarettes in the Kentucky or U.S. constitutions.

The Kentucky House demonstrated it understands this, in passing a bill this month that bans smoking in restaurants, bars, day cares, public buildings and other workplaces. It was a historic moment for public health in Kentucky – the first time a smoking ban has received the support of either chamber after at least five years of attempts.

For: Smoking ban good for diners, workers

Against: Smoking ban a step toward nanny state

The dangers of secondhand smoke are irrefutable. The evidence, including post-ban studies that show reductions in heart attacks, continues to pile up. With a few stalwart exceptions, the tobacco industry and its allies have backed away from decrying the settled science proving the harms of secondhand smoke, opting instead to champion liberties. Even philosopher John Stuart Mill, the icon of libertarianism, articulated the commonwealth’s right to this ban in his 1859 classic “On Liberty.” He wrote: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Coloring opposition to a restaurant smoking ban as a defense of liberty is the last gasp of a dying argument.

The other standard arguments against banning smoking in restaurants, workplaces and day cares are also red herrings, and demonstrably so. A smoking ban will keep customers away from establishments, we’re told. Yet establishments in Ohio and the 23 other states with comprehensive workplace, restaurant and bar smoking bans seem to be doing just fine.

The legislation is understandably sensitive in Kentucky, which is No. 1 for burley tobacco production. Tobacco stains deep, even if it doesn’t have the clout it once did. The Kentucky House won a close vote by carving out narrow exceptions for cigar bars and private clubs, such as VFW halls, and ensuring the ban doesn’t preempt existing ordinances.

Kentucky senators have a chance to demonstrate their commitment to the health of the public they represent, as their colleagues in the House did, politely and reasonably telling smokers to take their cigarettes outside. Better yet, senators can do so untroubled by ideological constraints.

Read the article online.