Kenton County embraces its once-controversial smoking ban as chances of a statewide ban have dimmed

Five years after Kenton County’s smoking ban took effect over great opposition, the county has embraced it, Scott Wartman reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“I’m a smoker, but I’m glad we’re non-smoking,” Justin Meade, a bartender at Molly Malone’s in Covington, told Wartman. “I don’t want to smell like smoke.”

Kenton is the only Northern Kentucky county with any type of indoor smoking ban. Its partial ban allows establishments that don’t serve people under 18, like bars, to have smoking.

Wartman reports having trouble finding anyone who didn’t support the smoking ban as he walked among the Covington bar scene, and noted that a Northern Kentucky Health Department report cites very few complaints.

“I think what folks should take away from this is comprehensive smoke-free laws are easy to enforce, that most people like them and that they protect everyone,” Stephanie Vogel, population-health director for the health department, told Wartman.

“The nonchalant acceptance, and even enthusiasm from some, of the partial smoking ban in Kenton County contrast with the controversy when it was enacted five years ago,” he writes, noting that five years ago some bar owners thought the ban would put them out of business and patrons “lamented” that it was “an attack on their rights.”

Amy Kummler, owner of Up Over bar, which can still allow smoking because it doesn’t serve anyone under 18, told Wartman that she wouldn’t mind if indoor smoking were banned statewide, but “feels smoking bans limited to one county or city are unfair,” he writes.

“I don’t even want to sit in my bar when it’s smoky a lot,” Kummler said. “I would be thrilled if the state went non-smoking, but I don’t think it would be fair unless everybody did it.”

Kentucky legislators have tried to pass a statewide smoke-free workplace law for years, but to no avail. Last year a bill passed out of the House, but was not called up for a vote in the Senate. This year, an election year, the bill wasn’t even called up for discussion in committee. New Republican Gov. Matt Bevin opposes a statewide smoking ban.

“Last year we thought it was our year,” Heather Wehrheim, chairwoman of Smoke-Free Kentucky, told Wartman. “It was the perfect scenario … the public support was there; we thought we had the votes. It was Senate leadership that blocked it. Their argument, and whether it’s true or not, is that it should be left up to local communities to pass smoke-free laws. We know that is going to take years and years and years.”

The latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that two-thirds of Kentucky adults support a comprehensive statewide smoking ban, and have since 2013. The ban has support from solid majorities in each political party and has majority support in every region of the state. But more than one-fourth of Kentucky adults are smokers.

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