State and national smoke-free leaders tell Ky. advocates to focus on local smoking bans because of political climate in Frankfort

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

More Kentucky localities are likely to see efforts for smoking bans, as a statewide ban appears less likely and leading advocates are saying to go local.

Stanton Glantz

Stanton Glantz, one of the nation’s leading advocates of smoke-free policies, said at the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy‘s spring conference April 28 that California initially had trouble passing a statewide indoor smoke-free law, which forced advocates to move their efforts to the local level. By the time the statewide law passed, 85 percent of the state was covered by local ordinances.

“I’m glad it worked out that way, because we are really talking about values and social norms and community norms and you just can’t impose that from the outside,” Glantz said during his keynote address. “And so all of these fights that you are having in all of these towns. … In the end, when you win, you’ve won. And the fight itself is an important part of making these laws work.”

Ellen Hahn, a University of Kentucky nursing professor and director of the smoke-free policy center, also encouraged her colleagues to shift their efforts to localities, saying the political situation doesn’t support a statewide law. New Republican Gov. Matt Bevin doesn’t support a statewide ban on smoking on workplaces, saying the issue should be decided locally.

“We are in a very difficult political climate in Frankfort,” Hahn said in her opening remarks.”We all know it. We all recognize it. And while we would all like to see Frankfort do the right thing – and it will someday, I promise – it is not the time to let somebody else do it. It is the time to go to your local elected officials and say we want this.”

Advocates made some headway last year when a smoking-ban bill passed the House, but it was placed in an unfavorable Senate committee and never brought up for discussion. This year’s House version of the bill, in an election year with Bevin in the governor’s office, was dead on arrival.

Glantz, a University of California-San Francisco professor and tobacco-control researcher, looked at the bright side: “You’re in a tough political environment, but you are really doing pretty well.” He reminded the advocates that one-third of the state is covered by indoor smoke-free ordinances, with 25 of them comprehensive and 12 of them including electronic cigarettes. He also commended the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce for supporting statewide and local bans.

What’s next
Glantz urged the advocates to “empower and mobilize” the 73 percent of Kentuckians who don’t smoke and get them to help change the social norms. Two-thirds of Kentucky adults support a comprehensive statewide smoking ban, according to latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll, and have since 2013.
“The whole battle is a battle about social norms and social acceptability, and once you win these fights, and you have a law that’s sticking – which takes a while – you don’t go back,’ he said. “And the tobacco companies understand that, and that is why they are fighting us so hard.”
Glantz armed the smoke-free warriors with research data to support smoke-free laws, including: they decrease the number of ambulance calls; hospital admissions for heart attacks, stroke, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and the number of low-birth-weight babies and complications during pregnancy.

“In Kentucky communities with comprehensive smoke-free laws, there was 22 percent fewer hospitalizations for people with COPD,” Glantz said, citing one of Hahn’s studies. “That is a gigantic effect, absolutely gigantic, at almost no cost and it happened right away.”

He noted that politicians are usually most interested in this short-term data, but he also cited long-term statistics about how smoke-free policies in California have decreased heart disease deaths by 9 percent “in just a few years,” and lung cancer by 14 percent in about 10 years. Kentucky leads the nation in both of these conditions.
“I would argue that the economic argument is actually on our side,” Glantz said, noting that economic benefits of smoke-free laws are almost immediate, especially because “every business, every citizen and every unit of government” is worried about health care costs. He also cited research that found “as you pass stronger laws, you get bigger effects.’
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