Columnist responds to poll on smoking ban; he, another foe and two advocates will debate it on KET’s ‘Kentucky Tonight’

Jim Waters of the Bluegrass Institute, which bills itself as “Kentucky’s free-market think tank,” sees “reasonable doubt” in the recent Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky poll that found two out of three Kentuckians favor a statewide ban on smoking in most public places. But he ignores some facts or makes selective use of them.

Waters, left, argues in his latest column distributed to Kentucky newspapers, “Proponents of a statewide smoking law know that if they offer a choice
in these polls, most would favor bans in public places but not on
privately owned property.”

However, many “public places” are privately owned, such as restaurants and bars, and the poll question makes that clear: “Would you favor or oppose a state law in Kentucky that would prohibit smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars?”

The question has been the same since 2011, when the poll found that 54 percent of Kentucky adults favored the law while 43 percent opposed it. The gap increased to 59-38 in 2012, and in October and November 2013, it was 65-29.

Waters has another issue with the poll: “Where do respondents live? Residents from liberal urban areas may have different views than those farming tobacco in rural Kentucky.”

The poll found support for the ban in Kentucky’s most rural regions. In the 42 counties that the poll defines as Western Kentucky, which had been the region least supportive of a ban, the latest poll found it favored 65 to 30. A year earlier, the split was 53-44, with an error margin of 5.5 percentage points. In Appalachian Kentucky, the least supportive region, it is 62-34.

Waters contends that “Kentucky’s smoking rates are dropping without a statewide ban,” but the statewide rate has declined very little in recent years, and remains the nation’s highest, at 29 percent.

Waters also argues, “Even most privately owned establishments frequented by the public
have already accomplished what the supporters of a statewide ban claim
they want: smoke-free atmospheres for customers and workers. It’s
been at least 15 years since I went into a McDonald’s restaurant where
someone was smoking. Even some bars like The Crazy Fox in Newport boom
with business after voluntarily implementing bans. This all happened without a statewide law.”

Thirty-eight Kentucky cities or counties have smoking bans, 24 of them comprehensive bans that include restaurants and bars. Those jurisdictions have about a third of Kentucky’s population. Advocates of a statewide ban say it would impose consistency and protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke, which has been found to cause cancer and other diseases.

Finally, to the argument that employees in smoky workplaces may not be able to find a job in a smoke-free place, Waters writes, “There are lots of dangerous jobs – at nuclear power plants, along
busy interstates, on tops of bridges – where missteps bring death and
place others in harm’s way. Are we to ban heavy equipment because of
such danger? No one is forced to work in a smoke-filled restaurant, along a busy highway or on top of a bridge.”

Such arguments, pro and con, will be aired tonight at 8 ET on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight.” Waters will be on the panel with Ken Moellman, spokesman for Northern Kentucky Choice, and two smoking-ban advocates: Dr. Shawn Jones, past president of the Kentucky Medical Association, and Ashli Watts,
manager of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

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