Leaders Hear Reasons to Pursue Jessamine Smoking Ban at Smoke-free Forum

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THE INTERIOR JOURNAL | BEN KLEPPINGER | MAY 6, 2015

Four years ago, local governments in Jessamine County looked at but ultimately abandoned plans for public smoking bans. Now, the Jessamine Health Department is hoping to once again kick-start discussions about smoke-free policies, with a focus on the involuntary consequences of secondhand smoke and the need to protect local workers.

The health department held a smoke-free forum at Asbury Seminary Friday, in order to give local elected leaders and community members information about the benefits of public smoking bans.

“It’s not just smokers who are affected by smoking in Kentucky,” said Dr. Thomas Coburn with the Jessamine Board of Health.

Coburn detailed the many different health problems non-smokers can suffer from due to smoking by others.

Secondhand smoke is responsible for thousands of deaths per year of non-smokers due to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, Coburn explained. And research has shown that any amount of exposure to smoking increases chances of health issues for non-smokers, he added.

“It’s one thing to talk about someone who chooses (to smoke) understanding the risks,” Coburn said. “… we’re talking about people who are not necessarily choosing to expose themselves to these toxins.”

While smoking bans in communities around Kentucky have been successful in cleaning up the air in public spaces and lowering smoking rates, Jessamine County continues to have one of the highest smoking rates around, Health Department Director Randy Gooch said.

About 27 percent of people in Jessamine County smoke — more than one in four — and that figure has been stubborn about dropping, Gooch said. Statewide, about 26 percent of people smoke in Kentucky, which is the second-highest statewide smoking rate in the nation. Jessamine is above the state average, Gooch noted.

“When we’re looking at smoke-free policy, the key for us is we want to protect employees in the workplace,” he said. “But we can’t ignore the fact that these types of policies are going to reduce the smoking rates in our communities.”

While a significant number of businesses in Jessamine County have put voluntary smoking bans in place, an estimated 10 percent haven’t.

“We find that people want to do the right thing more often, but there’s always going to be that 10 percent out there,” Gooch said. “There’s still people exposed to secondhand smoke in (public spaces) and there’s workers that are going to be exposed in (their workplaces).”

Gooch cited data showing very similar percentages of Democrats and Republicans — 69 and 68 percent, respectively — support the idea of a smoking ban in public spaces. He also noted a survey of local business owners, revealing that almost 80 percent of them believe a smoking ban would either have no effect on business or help attract new business to the area.

Gooch said implementing a smoking ban has numerous benefits for a community, including lowered costs for businesses when it comes to health insurance, sick time and lost productivity.

In addition to the cost benefits for business and the health benefits for individuals, a smoking ban can help “change our culture” for the better, he said.

“The kids — they’re our future. That’s who we have to think about,” he said. “And smoke-free policy now is going to change that next generation of kids, and then the next generation of kids. … That’s the reason we should do smoke-free policy in Jessamine County.”

During a question-and-answer session, state Rep. Kim King (R-Harrodsburg) commended the businesses in Jessamine County who have voluntarily gone smoke-free.

“That’s where I would like the decision to be made,” she said.

Gooch said there are other public-health issues such as seat belts and child-safety seats in cars that are required by law.

“If we’d left that to choice, there’d be a lot fewer people left to choose,” he said. “We’d have a lot more fatalities than we do if we had left that choice up to them.”

One question came from a Wilmore businesswoman, who said people smoke outside her business frequently, which prevents her from leaving because smoke triggers her asthma. She wanted to know how distance from a public space plays into smoke-free policies.

Mike Scanlon, a guest speaker who is the former vice mayor of Lexington and helped implement that city’s smoking ban years ago, said figuring out gray areas such as sidewalks outside buildings is tricky.

“I haven’t come up with a solution,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to legislate decency.”

Dr. Coburn said while it can be a problem, it’s also a problem that will crop up less and less in a smoke-free community because the smoking rate will drop.

Gooch noted that a failed state-wide smoking ban considered by the legislature this year would have implemented a 15-foot buffer where smoking would not be allowed. But a local smoking ban, which is favored by many in polls anyway, could be created to match what local residents want out of it, he said.

Rep. King said after the event that she had voted against the state-wide ban when it came up, but “applauds” any local smoke-free ordinance if it’s what the local population wants.

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