Seeing statewide smoking ban unlikely, Grayson County group asked Fiscal Court for a local one; only one magistrate favored it

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The efforts to pass smoking bans in Kentucky continue on three fronts: in the General Assembly, for a statewide ban; with local governments, for city or county bans; and school boards, for campuses free of tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Students have played a role on the school front, and even with local governments.

New Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has said smoking bans should be a local issue, but hasn’t said if he would veto a ban passed by the legislature, where the Democratic-controlled House passed one narrowly last year but watched it die in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The opposition of Bevin and the Senate has prompted new efforts in some localities, but the latest one has fallen short, even with lobbying by high-school students. And it resulted in racial comments by a top county official.

A motion for a smoking ban died for lack of a second in the Grayson County Fiscal Court meeting Friday, Jan. 15, after a group of local health-care providers, business leaders and five students from Grayson County High School spoke in favor if it.

The effort was led by the local hospital, the Twin Lakes Regional Regional Medial Center, which formed a Population Health Committee with local industries, schools and the Kentucky Cancer Program. The committee conducted an online survey that showed strong support for a smoking ban.

“This is a major public health issue facing our communities,” hospital CEO Wayne Meriwether told The Record, a local weekly newspaper. “Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air at work and in public places.”

Meriwether said that with the failure of a statewide ban in the legislature last year, and the election of Bevin, “We decided to proceed on the local level. . . . It won’t cost our county a penny, but it’s something we can do to improve the health of our county.”

The Record’s story noted that adjoining Hardin County has a ban, and “Researchers say second-hand smoke is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

Meriwether speaks to fiscal court (K105)

Meriwether made similar arguments at the fiscal court meeting, where the idea ran into opposition from business owners. “I have the right to choose what to do with my business,” said Winston Davis, owner of the popular Farmers Feed Mill restaurant. Others argued for the personal freedom to smoke.

Magistrate Harold Johnson made the motion for a smoking ban, saying his constituents wanted it, but it died when none of the other five magistrates would second it. They said the issue should be decided by voters in a referendum, but Meriwether and County Attorney Clay Ratley told them that state law doesn’t allow such referenda.

Judge-Executive Gary Logsdon, who recently received a double lung transplant, made his opposition clear, reports Ken Howlett of WKHG (K105) in Leitchfield. “Are we going to be a nanny county or a nanny state?” Logsdon
asked. “Smoking is bad. I’ve got two lungs out of a 42-year-old; that
was seven months ago. I don’t know where he come from, but Lord, I do
pray for him, because I wouldn’t be here; I was dead [and] never smoked a
cigarette in my life, but the good Lord takes care of us. We do ask
that everybody that does smoke, and the majority does, respect us.”

Actually, there is no county in Kentucky where even 40 percent of adult residents smoke, according to Grayson County’s rate is 28 percent, slightly below the statewide rate of 26.5 percent, the highest in the nation.

Howlett reports, “Grayson County High School senior Tristan Deering, who had already
eloquently stated his preference that a smoking ban is passed, asked magistrates, ‘If it’s not the role of government to protect people, then
what is the role of government?’

Logsdon replied, “I’m not black and I’m not Obama, and I’m not passing, making you do anything.” After a few seconds of apparent confusion in the audience, he added, “And I love blacks and whites; I respect blacks, but you know, I’m not Obama.” Logsdon is a Republican who has been repeatedly re-elected.

In a follow-up story, Mark Buckles of K105 reports that members of the audience “were audibly confused” after Logsdon’s reply. “Whether or not the response had racial overtones or was simply a
struggle to articulate a point regarding the court’s role in such public
policy matters, many residents both in attendance and not have been led
to have questions over what some have called a very ‘odd’ meeting.” Buckles posted audio of the smoking-ban discussion here and Logsdon’s part of it here.

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