10 years ago, Lexington’s smoking ban started creating a healthier city and a movement among others in Kentucky

A decade ago, Lexington took a bold step by enacted the state’s first public smoking ban, in a city that once proudly touted its status as the “World’s largest burley tobacco market.” As smoke-free supporters and Lexington residents celebrate the ordinance’s 10th anniversary Monday, a recent editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader highlights the dramatic benefits that have followed this historic step.

After the smoking ban took effect in April 2004, the city had 22 percent fewer emergency room visits for asthma in the next 32 months, and the Fayette County smoking rate has dropped from 26 percent to 17.5 percent, the editorial notes. These positive changes have yielded health-care savings of $21 million a year, says the University of Kentucky’s Tobacco Policy Research Program.

“There is nothing quite as cost effective as smoke-free policies,” the editorial quotes Ellen Hahn, a UK nursing professor and director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, as saying. “We predict a 32 percent decline in smoking rates if Kentucky were to go smoke-free. That would save billions in health care costs and reduce premature death and suffering from the chronic diseases that plague Kentucky.”

The editorial also says Lexington led the way for Louisville and 20 other municipalities to protect citizens from secondhand smoke; a third of the state’s population now lives in a smoke-free environment, and many of the initial fears about a smoking ban are now extinguished.

Kentuckians feared economic harm, the shunning of Lexington restaurants and bars and suffering tourism or downtown attraction, but the opposite predictions came true, says the editorial. The scene in downtown Lexington is “far richer than 10 years ago… It once was an article of faith that tobacco would always be king in Kentucky, yet tobacco declined and agriculture has thrived.”

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