Lexington marks 20 smoke-free years, but smoking bans still haven’t caught on in most of Ky. despite tobacco’s toll on health

Kentucky Health News

Twenty years ago, Lexington became the first city in the South of Midwest to make indoor smoking in public places illegal. It’s had a big impact there and in several other Kentucky cities, but only three in eight Kentuckains live in a place with such an ordinance.

“Lexington’s ordinance has had an enormous impact on the health of Lexington citizens,” said Mayor Linda Gorton said at a celebration of the anniversary. “In terms of public health, it is one of the most important, if not the most important, ordinance we have passed in the last 20 years. It has saved countless lives.”Tom Latek of Kentucky Today reports, “After the measure took effect, there was a reduction in heart attacks and emergency-department visits for asthma, and the smoking rate in Fayette County declined nearly 32%, resulting in 16,500 fewer smokers for an estimated annual health-care cost savings of $21 million.”

In 2014, electronic cigarettes, “addictive and popular among youth, were added to the ban,” Latek notes. “In the 20 years since Lexington’s smoke-free law passed, 57 additional Kentucky municipalities have passed smoke-free laws, protecting 38% of Kentuckians.”

“The number of people benefiting is considerably higher, as residents of counties that don’t protect against secondhand smoke travel to cities that do in order to work, shop, do business, dine and have fun,” writes Jamie Lucke of Kentucky Lantern.

But despite Kentucky’s high smoking rate and tobacco’s effect on the state’s health, bills to enact a statewide indoor-smoking ban couldn’t get through the General Assembly even when the House was conrolled by Democrats, and now that it and the Senate are heavily Republican, advocates have given up on the idea, at least for now. So they concentrate on local ordinances.

“Policy change takes time, often decades,” says Ellen Hahn, the University of Kentucky nursing professor who has been the leading advocate of smoke-free ordinances. “Policy change is also a team sport. While a few people can make a difference, I could not stick with it without support from others.

“As a nurse, I am naturally a patient advocate, giving voice to the voiceless, and as a public health nurse, my patient is the community. I am willing to wait for effective change. . . . The payoff for society is definitely worth the wait.”

Hahn told Lucke that she wishes for four things: “A comprehensive smoke-free law that covers every community in the state . . . a strong, hard-hitting media campaign” against heavily promoted tobacco products; higher cigarette taxes, which Lucke notes “deter young people from starting and to motivate adults to quit;” and more smoking-cessation services. “Kentucky spends just 3.5% of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends on tobacco control and prevention,” Lucke notes.

“It’s really not a shock that we have such high smoking rates,” Hahn told Lucke. “We don’t invest in prevention. And the sad part is we know what works to reduce smoking. We’re just not doing it.”

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