More smoking bans debated in tobacco-growing Kentucky
Posted: Thursday, October 9, 2008 9:47 pm
By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s reputation as a smokers’ haven is getting snuffed out gradually, even in communities deeply rooted in a tobacco culture that once dominated the state.
Cities across Kentucky — still one of the country’s leading tobacco-producing states — are restricting when and where smokers can light up. The restrictions range from strict local bans that forbid all indoor smoking in public buildings or work places to less-stringent limits that make allowances for bars and bingo halls. Some permit smoking in separate rooms with ventilation systems.
It’s a stark difference from the days when people could light up cigarettes just about everywhere.
“The heritage is something of the past,” said Rod Kuegel, who grows burley tobacco in Daviess County in western Kentucky. “As you take away the tobacco culture, you take away that defensive mode.”
At last count, 13 cities and seven counties in Kentucky had passed forms of smoking bans broader than just municipal buildings, according to the Kentucky League of Cities.
Those ordinances cover nearly one-third of Kentucky’s population, according to Irene Centers, director of the state’s Tobacco Cessation program in the Department for Public Health.
Across the country, at least 23 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring most public places and workplaces — including bars and restaurants — to be smoke-free, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Last year neighboring Tennessee, for example, banned smoking in most indoor public places.
But so far, it’s been local governments at the forefront of the issue in Kentucky.
The state’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington, feature tough public smoke-free laws, but restrictions have also passed in smaller towns in the heart of Kentucky’s traditional burley tobacco belt.
The anti-smoking movement has gained a strong foothold as burley production has waned.
Large numbers of farmers quit growing the leaf — an ingredient in cigarettes — since a $10 billion tobacco buyout in 2004 ended the Depression-era federal tobacco program, which set production and price controls.
The government predicts burley production in Kentucky this year will total 144.9 million pounds on 69,000 acres, compared with 470.4 million pounds on 240,000 acres in 1997.
In a state with historically high smoking rates, coupled with elevated cancer rates, smoke-free laws are a cost-effective way to improve public health, said Ellen Hahn, a professor at the University of Kentucky’s colleges of nursing and public health.
Some 28 percent of Kentuckians smoke, compared with nearly 20 percent nationally, according to statistics from the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
“Smoke-free laws are a vaccine,” protecting people from secondhand smoke, Hahn said.
While anti-smoking advocates have made inroads, smoking bans haven’t caught on everywhere.
In Glasgow, situated in a traditional tobacco-growing region, city council members tabled a proposal to ban smoking in public places and indoor workplaces. However, a number of restaurants there have gone nonsmoking voluntarily, said council member Jeanne Scalise, who opposed the smoking ban proposal. The city already bans smoking in city-owned buildings.
In Bowling Green, which also bans smoking in city-owned buildings, city commissioners refused to extend the prohibition to restaurants.
Opponents argue that smoking bans hurt business and infringe on individual rights.
Roy Trimble blames Paducah’s smoking ban for sending his western Kentucky restaurant into a tailspin. He said the business never recovered, and he closed his Trimble’s Exit 3 Restaurant this summer, putting 16 people out of work.
He said business dropped by nearly a third once smokers quit stopping by there. His customer base took a big hit when truck drivers pulling off for a meal realized they couldn’t light up.
“They would get up and leave. They would not even eat what they ordered,” Trimble said.
Trimble said local governments should leave it up to business operators to decide whether to allow smoking.
“I thought it was a free country,” he said.
Just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, officials in three northern Kentucky counties — Boone, Kenton and Campbell — are considering whether to join together in passing a smoke-free ordinance. The proposal remains on the drawing board, but a public health advocate is urging a sweeping ban applying to all public indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars.
“We’re not saying that people don’t have the right to smoke. That is a right,” said Linda Vogelpohl, chairwoman of Northern Kentucky Action, a coalition of health-care groups and residents.
“But it’s a choice. It is everyone’s right to breathe clean air.”
Two draft proposals have floated in recent weeks. One calls for a comprehensive smoking ban and the other would offer exemptions for bars, private clubs and private businesses such as law firms and architectural firms where the public is allowed to enter by appointment only, said John Austin, senior policy analyst for the Campbell County Fiscal Court. Neither draft has yet emerged as the favorite among fiscal courts in the three counties, he said.
Vogelpohl said she constantly sees the ravages caused by smoking as clinical director at the cancer treatment centers at St. Luke Hospitals in Fort Thomas and Florence.
“It’s very difficult when I have a patient sit down in front of me with tears in their eyes and say ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with lung cancer; I don’t understand because I never smoked,”’ she said.
Jim Gilliece is among the restaurateurs and bar owners fighting the proposal. His opposition is based more on philosophical grounds than out of concern for his business.
“It’s one more instance of the government making a decision for us that I believe we’re perfectly capable of making on our own,” said Gilliece, co-proprietor of Chez Nora, a restaurant and jazz club in Covington.
He said many northern Kentucky restaurants already are nonsmoking, and he expects his business would survive, whether smoking is allowed or not.
“People still go out,” he said. “So I’m not too concerned that somehow my restaurant will close.”
State Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, said he’s considering introducing a bill next year weighing in on the issue. Under the proposal, businesses wanting to allow smoking inside would have to get a state license and post “smoking allowed” signs.
Otherwise, it would be implied that smoking would be disallowed, he said.
“You the consumer would either walk through the door or not,” he said.
As the debate rages in northern Kentucky, not every bar owner is opposed to a smoking ban.
Bob Davis said his Mahogany’s Coffeehouse and Bar in a blue-collar Kenton County neighborhood has been smoke-free since opening about a year ago, despite being in “one of the epicenters of smoking.”
Davis said his workers like it that the bar isn’t filled with smoke, and so do the musicians who perform.
Customers wanting to light up can do so in an outdoor patio.
Davis said he occasionally loses a customer once they find out smoking is disallowed inside.
“Most of those people say, ‘Well hell, we’re in Kentucky,”’ he said.
Published in The Messenger 10.09.08