Kentucky smoking ban moves forward but seems likely to get snuffed out

Statewide smoking ban endorsed by Kentucky House, heads to Senate

Although its chances of becoming law seem unlikely at best, Friday's vote in the Kentucky House to endorse a smoking ban counted as a notable moment in a state still steeped in tobacco culture.

The Kentucky House endorsed a statewide smoking ban in public buildings and most workplaces, with the measure passing the Democratic-led chamber 51-46. The bill now heads to the Republican-run Senate, where it faces a bigger challenge.

"After five years of hard work, I’m delighted we’ve gotten it through the House," said Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom, the bill's lead sponsor. "My hope is to see some movement in the Senate, that would be a miracle. We don’t know what to dream for until we get to the end of the session and see how far we come."

Westrom said about 950 people die every year in Kentucky because of secondhand smoke exposure and that tobacco use costs Kentucky families and businesses $4.7 billion a year in healthcare bills and lost productivity.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer has said there isn't much sentiment in the chamber to pass a smoking ban, according to the Associated Press.

While tobacco has historically been an important part of Kentucky's agriculture and economy, the industry isn't what it once was. According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture census, in 2012 Kentucky had only 4,530 tobacco farms -- an 84.5% drop from 29,237 farms a decade earlier. 

There are several dozen Kentucky communities that have comprehensive smoke-free ordinances, according to the University of Kentucky College of Nursing. Lexington, one of the state's biggest cities, passed a smoking ban in 2004

The bill was amended so it will not pre-empt the local smoke-free ordinances that are already in effect. The bill was also amended to exempt cigar bars, cigar clubs, tobacco stores and private clubs.

According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, there are 24 states with laws in effect that require non-hospitality workplaces, restaurants and bars to be 100% smoke-free.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times


2:05 p.m.: This post was updated to include details about tobacco farms in Kentucky.

11:52 a.m.: This post was updated to include comments from Rep. Susan Westrom.

This post was originally published at 9:47 a.m.

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