Just step outside

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By Stevie Lowery

The argument for enacting an indoor smoke-free law in Kentucky is simple: Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air.
I would hope even smokers would agree.
Those of us who choose not to smoke should not be forced to inhale secondhand smoke where we work or when we go out to eat. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for those who do smoke to go outside before they light up. It’s not that big of a deal. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. But, for the past four years, bills to prohibit smoking in public places statewide have never made it to a floor vote in either the House or Senate.
I hope that changes this year.
It’s time.
Actually, it’s beyond time for Kentucky to join the 24 states and nearly 700 counties and cities that have enacted strong indoor smoke-free laws. Nearly half of the U.S. population now lives in areas with such laws. Nearby communities that have passed smoke-free ordinances include Campbellsville, Danville, Bardstown and Hardin County.
Marion County should join them.
Smoke Free Kentucky - a coalition of public health groups, community organizations, businesses and citizens concerned about the serious health effects of secondhand smoke – gives many reasons why indoor smoke-free laws just make sense.
1. Nearly 50,000 Americans die each year due to exposure to secondhand smoke.
2. Kentucky leads the nation in smoking and in lung cancer.
3. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart attack.
4. Secondhand smoke causes premature death and serious disease in non-smoking adults and children.
5. Workers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of developing lung cancer by about 20 to 30 percent. Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer and ranks among the highest in several chronic diseases.
6. Healthcare costs directly attributed to tobacco use total $1.92 billion a year in Kentucky. Eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace would save healthcare costs, cleaning and maintenance costs, and improve worker productivity.
7. Studies show that smoke-free laws have a positive or neutral impact on bar and restaurant business.
In my eyes, indoor smoke-free laws just make sense.
And, it’s time legislators vote on the issue.
Soon, bills will be introduced to prohibit smoking in public places and places of employment statewide.
State Senator Jimmy Higdon said he supports local control of smoking bans. According to Higdon, the last statistic he heard was that local smoking bans now cover 50 percent of Kentucky's population.
“I will tell anyone reading this, if you smoke, please quit,” he said. “If you don't smoke please don't start. Smoking is harmful to your health.”
According to Higdon, of the responses he received during his 2014 survey, which was published in The Lebanon Enterprise, 67 percent of the responses were against a statewide smoking ban.
So, it seems obvious to me how Sen. Higdon is going to vote on the issue.
However, State Rep. Terry Mills, who was a smoker for 25 years, said he’s on the fence. Here are some of the specific reasons he mentioned for being “on the fence”:
1. Some business owners want to be able to decide for themselves whether to make their business smoke-free or not. Many people who smoke also believe the business owner should decide.
2. Many people believe it should be a local decision so the rules can be tailored to a particular community. About 40 percent of communities in Kentucky have passed local rules, Mills said.
3. Some people have questioned the cost of a smoke-free law. There will be administrative costs and enforcement costs, according to Mills.
4. Kentucky Farm Bureau was opposed to the bill last year and Mills plans to discuss this issue with their representatives before legislators return to Frankfort on Feb. 3.
5. Many smokers have told Mills that they feel as if they're being punished for engaging in a legal activity.
In my eyes, non-smokers are the ones truly being punished. It’s been proven that secondhand smoke greatly increases the risk for cancer, stroke, heart disease, and asthma attacks. Nonsmokers have chosen not to participate in this deadly habit, but we are still being exposed to secondhand smoke at local restaurants and businesses.
Is it really too much to ask for smokers to step outside?
I think not.
I urge you to let Sen. Higdon and Rep. Mills know how you feel on this issue. You can call the legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181. Sen. Higdon said people can also leave messages for him at 270-692-6945.