FRANKFORT, KY. — Backed by a coalition of health and anti-smoking groups, Rep. Susan Westrom said Wednesday that she plans to file a bill for the 2012 legislative session to enact a statewide smoking ban in public places.
Testifying before the interim joint Health and Welfare Committee, the Lexington Democrat said she believes it’s time for lawmakers to adopt a statewide law similar to ordinances already enacted in some localities, including Louisville and Lexington.
“Those of you who have some concerns, think about the tax consequences,” Westrom said, referring to the public health costs associated with smoking.
Kentucky continues to have one of the nation’s highest rates of adult smoking, at 26 percent.
But Westrom said attitudes about smoking have changed — particularly regarding exposure to secondhand smoke — and she believes public support is growing for such a ban.
“Take time to talk to your constituents,” she said to lawmakers on the panel. “You’ll be absolutely stunned.”
Among those speaking in support of a statewide law were David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, who said a majority of business owners the chamber surveyed back such a measure. He said employers are increasingly concerned about the health costs and lost productivity associated with smoking.
“Smoking is not only killing us, it’s bankrupting us,” Adkisson said.
Also speaking in support were Dr. John Johnstone, a Madison County cardiologist, and Scott Lockard, public health director of the Clark County Health Department.
“I have seen personally the ravages of tobacco smoke,” Johnstone said, adding that that includes people exposed to secondhand smoke. “There is no safe level of exposure to smoke.”
Westrom’s measure also has the support of a group called Smoke Free Kentucky, which plans to work on behalf of the bill during the 2012 session, said Amy Barkley of with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Westrom said she plans to file the bill before the legislature convenes in January. It would ban smoking in enclosed indoor public spaces, such as offices or other workplaces, stores, restaurants and shopping malls.
It would not extend to outdoor areas, such as parks, she said. But communities could pass even stricter requirements.
No one spoke against the measure at Wednesday’s hearing.
Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, the committee co-chairmen, both spoke in favor of it.
“We do have a right to clean air,” Denton said. “I would like to see your bill pass.”
Burch said attitudes about smoking have changed since he introduced a bill some 25 years ago to restrict smoking in public.
It was assigned to the tobacco-friendly House agriculture committee. When Burch came forward to present the bill, he said, “every member of the committee lit up cigarettes.”
At that point, Burch said he told supporters, “I think the bill is in trouble.”
Smoking wasn’t restricted in all public parts of the Capitol and the Capitol Anex until 2004, when lawmakers banned smoking in legislative areas, including committee meeting rooms.
By Deborah Yetter, Courier-journal