Supporters of a statewide ban on public smoking may be poised to sound the same theme as beaten but upbeat basketball teams in this season of March Madness: Wait till next year.
Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, sponsor of the bill that was approved on a 10-2 vote of the House Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday, told the Associated Press she doesn’t think there’s enough support in the Senate to pass the measure and she doesn’t want to have a House vote it’s doomed to failure at the next stage. Smoking regulation gets a more favorable reception each time legislators take it up, and the time may be right in 2013.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he wants a floor vote in this session.
How things have changed. Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for Kentucky to consider anything even remotely detrimental to the production and sale of what at the time was its main cash crop. Politicians were accustomed to hammering out deals in smoke-filled back rooms and easily laughed off attempts to curtail the “right” to set little fires in public buildings for the purpose of inhaling the fumes.
Hardly anyone’s laughing now. Smokers are the minority, even in Kentucky, and non-smokers are more aggressively promoting their own right to patronize business places and government offices without choking on noxious air. More than 30 cities and counties throughout the commonwealth, including Frankfort (but not Franklin County), have enacted bans on public smoking. The proposed state law would even extend the prohibition to private homes if they’re used for businesses such as child or adult day care.
State Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, one of the two Republicans who opposed the legislation cleared by the committee, was almost apologetic for doing so. He said the bill means well and probably would be beneficial to public health but, in his opinion, it’s too intrusive on the rights of private enterprise to determine how to serve its customers.
This argument is fast losing steam. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which exists for the purpose of making the state more friendly to business development, came out in support of the anti-smoking bill. President Dave Adkisson said just 9 percent of the chamber’s members are against a statewide ban while 70 percent like the idea. One benefit to the business community is that consumers traveling around the commonwealth will know what to expect when they pull off the interstate to dine at local restaurants. It’s a tossup now whether they’ll walk into an eatery with clean air or a joint where tobacco smoke drifts freely between the “smoking” and “non-smoking” sections. Paula Alexander, public health director of the Franklin County Health Department, noted recently that in the five years since Frankfort adopted its no-smoking law, restaurants have seen their business continue to flourish. The county’s most eagerly anticipated chain ever – Cracker Barrel – announced a smoke-free policy even though it didn’t have to, being outside the city limits.
There will always be those who cling to archaic ways against their own best interests, stubbornly defiant as the public shifts trade to competitors who offer the environment most people want and expect. Business enterprises unable to adapt to changing consumer tastes condemn themselves to irrelevance.
Legislators who fear a political backlashfrom prohibition of public smoking should stop procrastinating and realize the non-smoking majority is way ahead of them on this issue.