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KY Anti-Smoking Forces Seek Statewide Ban

January 7, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Public health advocates say public opinion supports a statewide smoking ban, and they're cautiously optimistic state lawmakers will green-light the idea this legislative session. Dozens of groups are united behind the "Smoke-Free Kentucky" campaign, and they rallied in the Capitol Thursday to pitch the measure that bans indoor smoking in public places - including bars and restaurants - across the state.

Jodi Mitchell, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, says the health hazards of smoking are well-known, and keeping smokers from lighting up in public places is a common-sense solution.

"Reducing exposure to second-hand smoke will save lives and lower health care costs in Kentucky. With the current budget shortfalls, this type of initiative will help improve the health care of all Kentuckians."

A recent survey by the "Smoke-Free Kentucky" campaign found that 59 percent of registered voters polled favor a state law banning smoking in most public places, workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars.

Acknowledging the state's strong ties to the tobacco industry and high smoking rates, Tonya Chang with American Heart Association Kentucky admits the political will to support a statewide smoking ban in Kentucky probably will be a long time coming.

"We're embarking on this campaign knowing that it's going to be a long-term effort. In the meantime, we are encouraging local communities to continue to pass their own smoke-free policy. As of right now, we have 29 communities in Kentucky that have passed some level of coverage. About 18 of those have policies similar to what we're promoting at the state level."

Betsy Janes, director of advocacy in Kentucky and Tennessee for the American Lung Association, sees broad, bi-partisan support for a statewide smoking ban, including among those who identify with the Tea Party. She says the survey results point to one key opinion.

"Sixty-seven percent of Kentuckians believe that the rights of employees and customers to breathe in restaurants and bars is actually more compelling, more important, than the right of smokers to smoke or the rights of restaurant owners or bar owners to dictate policy in their place of business."

The smoking-ban measure filed this week by State Rep. Susan Westrom (D-Lexington) also allows local communities to pass more stringent smoke-free policies than the state requires.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY