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EDITORIAL: A smoking ban

Publication Date: 2011-01-08
  • Publication:Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal

The bill to impose a statewide ban on smoking in indoor workplaces in Kentucky should be a no-brainer. Instead, of course, it will face a steep, and perhaps insurmountable, uphill fight...

In Kentucky, the statistics are worse than national averages. The state is tied with West Virginia for the nation's highest adult smoking rate — 25.6 percent, compared with a 20.6 percent national rate — and as a result Kentucky ranks among the top states for lung and cardiovascular disease.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have some form of statewide smoke-free laws. Support for a state ban is growing even in Indiana, tied with Missouri for the nation's fifth-highest adult smoking rate at 23.1 percent. This is a national trend Kentucky should join.

As the tobacco industry has declined in Kentucky, the state's politicians are no longer as reflexively opposed to anti-smoking measures as they were in years past. But there is still a strong historical and emotional link to tobacco farming and cigarette manufacturing in the state, and smoke-free policies remain controversial and unpopular in many quarters.

One argument against the ban -- that it interferes with “personal freedom” -- can be easily dismissed. Secondhand smoke poses lethal threats to many people beyond smokers themselves -- especially children, anyone with respiratory conditions such as asthma, and employees in restaurants and bars. There should be no “freedom” to endanger them.

A second objection -- that smoking bans should be pursued by local governments -- has some merit. Indeed, 28 Kentucky communities -- including Louisville in 2007 -- have enacted various public smoking bans, and even some of the proponents of a statewide ban concede that local actions and enforcement are at the core of effective smoking restrictions. Nevertheless, a state ban would fill in gaps where bans are not in effect, set minimum standards for anti-smoking policies and be a guard against backsliding.

Bans don't put a halt to tobacco use, but by eliminating areas where smoking is allowed, they do cut down on smoking. That could only be a healthy development.