Smoking ban gets ‘a good scrubbing’ before Judiciary Committee

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The bill for a statewide smoking ban is favored by three-fifths of Kentucky adults, but is dead for this session of the General Assembly. However, its supporters think they made some headway Monday as they laid groundwork for getting it through the state House a year from now.

The House Judiciary Committee held an informational hearing on House Bill 190 to “give it a good scrubbing” before a committee that is more skeptical of it than the Health and Welfare Committee, which approved it early in the session, the bill’s sponsor, Rep, Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said afterward.

Westrom said she was encouraged by the hearing because it exposed weaknesses in the bill that she will correct for the next regular session, beginning in January 2014. For example, she said, Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, argued that the bill’s language would make it illegal to use smoke in barns to cure the dark tobacco grown in Western Kentucky, largely for smokeless consumption.

“This is about vetting,” Westrom told Rudy. “You have a different mindset that I do sitting on the Health and Welfare Committee.”

Rudy acknowledged that secondhand smoke is not beneficial, but asked, “Has there ever been a death certificate that secondhand smoke killed this person?”

Dr. Sylvia Cerel-Suhl, Central Kentucky president of the American Heart Association, replied that Lexington recorded a significant drop in acute heart attacks after enacting a smoking ban, and said “thousands of studies” of secondhand smoke have shown exposure to it can cause premature death.

“The evidence is absolutely overwhelming,” she said, and asked if anyone else had any questions. No one did, but the committee was one member short of a quorum.

Advocates told the legislators that 37 jurisdictions, covering 34 percent of the state’s population, limit smoking in some way. Mark Hayden, a trial lawyer and former Campbell County commissioner, said a statewide ban is needed because enacting ordinances, writing regulations and enforcing them is a burden for local officials.

The bill would give local health departments power to enforce the ban. Scott Lockard, president of the Kentucky Health Departments Association and the health director in Clark County, said his agency has issued no court charges, only warning citations, since its board passed a ban, and Woodford County has issued only three citations.

Others appearing at the hearing included Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, who was invited by the Kentucky Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition. He discussed enforcement of of the ban in Louisville, where he was mayor.

Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, said the ban is “one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been brought before this body, because it literally affects every Kentuckian. . . perhaps the most important piece.”

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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