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Smoking Ban Clears Major Hurdle

It’s taken five years, but an embattled bill to ban indoor smoking in all workplaces and public spaces finally received a vote by the full House on Friday.

According to a Kentucky Health Issues Poll from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, support for a statewide smoke-free workplace law has grown steadily from 48 percent in 2010 to 66 percent in the latest survey released in January. More than one-third of Kentuckians now live in a community with a smoke-free ordinance.

Rep. Susan Westrom (D-Lexington) has championed the effort from the beginning. She said the statewide smoking law embodied in House Bill 145 wouldn’t keep local governments from passing stronger restrictions. But a change made on the House floor would prevent the state ban from overriding local regulations that are weaker.

Kentucky leads the nation in smoking and lung cancer rates, and ranks high in chronic diseases often linked to tobacco and exposure to second-hand smoke. Nearly 1,000 Kentuckians die each year due to second-hand smoke exposure.

The smoke-free law wouldn’t apply to tobacco businesses, research labs, cigar bars, and private clubs. Smokers who violate the proposed law face a $25 fine and business owners face a $50 fine.

Amendments to Limit Scope of Ban

During the floor debate last week, Rep. Stan Lee (R-Lexington) offered a personal reason why he thought e-cigarettes should be exempt from the statewide ban.

Lee’s e-cigarette amendment was narrowly defeated, 47 – 48. Hardin County freshman Rep. Jim DuPlessis (R-Elizabethtown) also offered an amendment, one he considered a compromise proposal.

Sponsor Westrom viewed the amendment proposed by DuPlessis as hostile to her goal of protecting workers from exposure to second-hand smoke.

The House rejected the DuPlessis amendment on a 44 – 45 vote.

Other Arguments For and Against the Ban

Rep. Gerald Watkins (D-Paducah) gave a full-throated endorsement of the smoke-free bill. He said research shows that smoking bans reduce smoking rates. He also cited an American Cancer Study that finds the average smoker picks up the habit at age 14, and that smoking is more addictive than heroin.

Watkins relayed his experience with a smoking ordinance in his hometown.

Despite a goal to improve the health of Kentuckians, Rep. Tim Moore (R-Elizabethtown) noted what he called a conflict of principles in the smoke-free bill. He said he doubts legislative action would change people’s lifestyle habits. He said he chose to stand for individual liberty.

When the final votes were cast, Rep. Westrom’s HB 145 narrowly advanced from the House on a vote of 51 – 46. It now heads to the Senate where the Republican leadership has been frigid to the measure.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage app for your smartphone or tablet.