LEXINGTON, Ky. (11/21/13) – Supporters of a statewide smoking ban in businesses and restaurants urged members of the General Assembly's Interim Economic Development Committee to support measures that would put a stop to smoking inside public places across Kentucky.
The committee met on University of Kentucky's campus Thursday afternoon.
Many Kentucky communities have already implemented smoke-free policies inside public places. According to Dr. Mark Evers, director of UK's Markey Cancer Center, a little more than 34 percent of Kentucky's population are protected by comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws or regulations.
Evers was among those that testified to the committee. He said although neighboring high tobacco producing states have 0 percent of their populations covered by smoke-free workplaces laws, such as Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama, he wants to see Kentucky be 100 percent covered.
“We've enjoyed being No. 1 in a lot of different things, Kentucky does,” said Evers. “Obviously, UK and U of L (University of Louisville) have great sports rivalries and we all want to be No. 1. But the thing we don't talk a lot about is the fact that Kentucky is No. 1 in the nation for overall cancer mortality. That's a shame. That's something we don't want to be No. 1 in.”
Lexington is one of 23 Kentucky communities that have implemented smoke-free policies in workplaces. Since the measures were established, Evers said there are 32 percent fewer Fayette County smokers which equates to $21 million in savings per year in health care costs.
Ashli Watts is the manager of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. She also testified to the committee, citing that 29 percent of Kentuckians are smoking, the highest rate in the nation. Watts said the Center for Disease Control estimates smoking related health expenditures cost Kentucky more than $1.5 billion annually, $487 million of which is covered by state medicaid tax payer dollars.
“Smoking is not only killing us, it's bankrupting us both in terms of cost of business and medical cost to taxpayers,” said Watts.
Watts added that employers are not only dealing with higher health care costs for employees, who smoke and who are exposed to second-hand smoke, but also significantly higher rates of absenteeism.
She also said no negative economic impact can be found from these types of measures.
Watts cited a study published in 2007 that assessed the economic impact of a smoke-free law in Lexington and Fayette County. She said the study found that no important economic harm stemmed from the smoke-free legislation, despite the fact that Lexington is located in a tobacco producing state with higher than average smoking rates.
“Smoke-free laws not only protect the rights of non-smokers to breathe clean air, but also help smokers quit smoking,” said Watts.
Many opponents of statewide smoke-free laws point to the importance of individual property rights of business owners and their ability to go smoke-free if they so choose, said Watts. Moreover, they say consumers have a choice of whether to patronize a smoke-free business, she said.
“We agree at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that property rights are sacred and any attempt to remove these rights should be carefully scrutinized,” said Watts. “However, as the Kentucky Supreme Court has held, smoke-free laws are not an improper infringement of property rights.”
She added that these measures are meant to protect public health, just as the health departments ensure restaurants are serving clean food and water.
Thursday's committee meeting was not meant to exercise any sort of legislation on smoke-free laws, but rather to hear concerns and recommendations for measures to consider during the next legislative session.
Currently, 24 states have implemented statewide smoke-free laws in public places.
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