By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Adam Edelen, a Democratic candidate for governor, has endorsed a statewide ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and an increase in the state cigarette tax to the national average of $1.72 per pack as part of his agenda to “modernize and reform” Kentucky.
“I am not a nanny-state candidate. I believe that if you want to smoke, you should be able to,” the former state auditor said in a Feb. 5 press call. “But I also believe that those who choose not to smoke — those who choose to protect their health in the workplace or the health of their children — have a right to a law that protects them in the pursuit of clean air.”
Edelen, one of three major Democrats in the May 21 primary, said his smoke-free law would ban tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from all indoor workplaces with three or more employees, but would exempt facilities that specialize in tobacco products.
About 35 percent of Kentuckians live in cities or counties that have adopted such laws. Nationwide, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed them. Such a law is supported by 66 percent of Kentucky adults, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll.
The state House passed a statewide smoking ban in 2015, but its takeover by Republicans after the election of a Republican governor has dimmed the prospects for such a law. Gov. Matt Bevin, who is running for re-election, has said this is a matter for local governments, not the state.
That is also the view of the new chair of the House health committee. Rep. Kim Moser, a Northern Kentucky Republican, recently told Kentucky Health News that while she personally wouldn’t mind a statewide smoking ban, and is an advocate for smoke-free policies, especially when it comes to smoking around children, she too thinks this should be a local decision.
Edelen also called for raising the cigarette tax by 62 cents to get it to the national average of $1.72 per pack. He said some of the revenue would be used to help Kentuckians stop smoking, or on aggressive efforts to discourage them from smoking. The poll found that 23 percent of Kentucky adults are smokers.
The General Assembly increased the cigarette tax by 50 cents to $1.10 per pack in the last legislative session. That was the largest increase in the state’s history.
Edelen pointed out that Kentucky only invests $2.6 million on its smoking and prevention efforts while paying nearly $2 billion a year on tobacco-related illnesses. “That is a wrong-headed approach,” he said.
Edelen said that cigarette manufacturers have “far too much influence with our legislators,” and that he is prepared to go up against them to pass his anti-smoking agenda. He noted that he had pledged not to accepting money from political action committees of lobbying groups and other interests.
“I think the legislature’s reluctance to embrace a more modern approach to dealing with our public health concerns in Kentucky is largely because of a dependence on PAC money and the strength of lobbyist who represent these special interests,” he said.
Edelen said he is a former smoker and the son of a Meade County tobacco farmer, but his role as a parent cemented for him the importance of passing laws to would improve the state’s health and economy.
“This isn’t just about public health, this is about what kind of state we live in,” he said. “Do we believe our people in every walk of life has the right to clean air? I certainly believe that we do and will be leading from the front on this issue.”