In Kentucky, enacting a local smoking ban means respecting the heritage of tobacco, county health directors say

Jim Rousey, left, is retired public health director for Madison
County; Scott Lockard is director for Clark County. (Kentucky
Center For Smoke-Free Policy photo)

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The toughest challenge in passing a local smoking ban is ensuring that some in the community don’t see it as a personal attack on their livelihood, character or heritage, say two public-health directors who succeeded in the effort.

Jim Rousey, retired director of the Madison County Health Department, and Clark County Director Scott Locakard spoke in the latest installment of a series of recollections presented by smoke-free advocates on WUKY-FM, the radio station of the University of Kentucky.

Noting the rich heritage Madison County had in tobacco, which generated much of the county’s wealth and tax base, Rousey said it was important for him and his board to respect this history as they worked toward passing a smoking regulation in 2007.

“In every opportunity we wanted to acknowledge that rich heritage, which of course was [developed] way before we had the science connecting the hazards of tobacco and tobacco smoke to public health,” he said. “So that was probably one of the biggest challenges that we had was in honoring that rich tobacco history we had.”

Lockard, who works in an adjoining county, agreed that it was important to acknowledge the importance that tobacco played in the community as he and his board pushed toward the smoking regulation the Clark County Board of Health enacted in 2009.

“People felt like you were attacking their heritage, their history and you were saying that they were bad people for being associated with tobacco growing,” Lockard said. “That was the farthest thing we were trying to communicate, and I always tried to make it as clear as possible that we acknowledged the importance that tobacco has played in our community.”

In Madison County, some suggested applying the smoke-free regulation in restaurants only. One told a story that strongly influenced Rousey to push to include all public places. The man told him about how difficult it was to be an older employee with asthma in a workplace that allowed smoking. He said he felt that he was unable to find another job that had the same benefits or pay.

Lockard said many business owners in his community urged the health board to make the smoke-free regulation include all businesses because they wanted to go smoke-free but did not want to risk alienating some customers.

Five local health boards in Kentucky have passed smoking regulations. The Bullitt County Board of Health passed one in 2011 but the regulation is being challenged in court by the Bullitt County Fiscal Court. The case is before the state Supreme Court, but the fiscal court is planning to pass an ordinance that would invalidate it while banning smoking in the county’s public buildings.

The outcome of the controversy could influence whether counties with health-board smoking rules, like Clark and Madison, get to keep them or whether other counties will follow their examples.

Rousey’s and Lockard’s stories are part of StoryCorps, an independent non-profit whose mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. To listen, click here.

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