Kentucky Governor Calls for Public Smoking Ban
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
In tobacco-rich Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear has called for a ban on smoking in certain public places, an effort to improve the state's dismal public health record and to reduce strains on its health system.
“Our addiction hurts productivity, jacks up health care costs and kills our people,” Beshear, a Democrat, said in his state of the state address Wednesday (February 6). “Yet we've never instituted a statewide law to protect Kentuckians from second-hand smoke … It's time for us to begin looking seriously at doing this.”
About 29 percent of Kentuckians in 2011 said they smoke, according to surveys by Gallup and Healthways. That was the highest rate in the nation. The state also is a national leader in prevalence of diabetes and lung cancer — diseases that correlate to rates of smoking.
Thirty states and hundreds of cities and counties have adopted laws that bar smoking in restaurants and bars, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That includes about three dozen localities in Kentucky.
The governor’s plan is likely to meet resistance in the divided legislature, where similar proposals have failed before.
Support for the proposal largely falls along party lines, Cincinnati.com reports. Republicans say it would infringe upon personal liberty.
“I don’t think it’s government’s place to sit there and tell people you can’t do this,” Senate President Robert Stivers told the news outlet. “Next thing we’ll be telling them when to eat Twinkies and Ho Hos.”
In his speech, the governor countered such arguments. “This isn't a rights issue,” he said. “People could still smoke. Just not in places where their smoke endangers the health of our workers and others.”
The ban isn’t the only tobacco-related proposal in the Kentucky Legislature. Lawmakers also are also considering whether to increase taxes on tobacco as part of a broad overhaul of the tax code.
Many states, pressed by public health advocates, have sought to combat high smoking rates by raising taxes on tobacco, which range as high as $4.35 per pack of cigarettes in New York. Several studies have shown the method curbs smoking, particularly among youth.
Kentucky’s current 60-cent tax is among the lowest in the country. Legislation introduced by Democrats this week would hike it to $1.60.
In November, a panel appointed by the governor recommended boosting the tax by 40 cents, saying the move would raise about $120 million while yielding health care savings.