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News Summary

Kentucky: Go smoke-free

Publication Date: 12/25/2011
  • Author:Dr. Susan G. Zepeda
  • Publication:The Courier-Journal

Despite Kentucky’s low ranking in many health areas, we are making progress when it comes to protecting residents from exposure to carcinogens in tobacco smoke. According to the most recent Health Issues Poll commissioned by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, 54 percent of those polled favor a state law in Kentucky that would prohibit smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars.

Moreover, we are making progress locally, too. If someone had told me, when I first began my career in health, that one day 34 percent of Kentuckians would live in a smoke-free community, I would not have believed it. But, today it’s true that more than 30 communities have laws or regulations protecting workers in restaurants, bars and other work sites from secondhand smoke. This is a good thing for residents, workers and visitors in these communities. And now there is a broad-based endeavor to protect the health of all Kentuckians through a statewide policy.

There are many benefits to reducing exposure to tobacco. When young people -- preteens and teens--live in a tobacco-free area, they are less likely to begin smoking because they see fewer peers and adults smoking. This is because more people quit smoking when their community becomes smoke-free. Additionally, the air quality improves for all residents -- smokers and non-smokers -- young and old. Research shows that fewer people visit emergency rooms with heart attacks after a comprehensive smoke-free policy is enacted.

If the state had a smoke-free policy, Kentucky would be in good company nationally. Nearly half of the 50 states have strong smoke-free workplace legislation. Another “tobacco” state, North Carolina, went smoke-free Jan. 2, 2010 assuring smoke-free public places including restaurants and bars.

Businesses often rank a healthy environment as a top criterion when choosing a site to locate or relocate a business. A state that makes clean indoor air a priority sends a welcoming message to prospective employers, and Kentucky needs to be competitive in attracting these employers. Another draw for business is that health care costs decrease after a smoke-free policy is enacted. It is estimated that Lexington has saved $21 million a year in smoking-related health care costs since enacting their community ordinance.

Kentucky is known for its hospitality and natural beauty. We can be known, too, as a beautiful and healthy place to live; one that invites visitors and newcomers to bring their families and enjoy our natural attractions. Twenty years from now, our children will thank us for the progress we can make today.