Ahead of the 2015 session, passionate opinions on the idea of a statewide smoking ban continued to be expressed as lawmakers and advocates discussed the issue in a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare Wednesday.
State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, testified in front of the committee where she was joined by Brent Cooper, a northern Kentucky business owner who believes the state going smoke-free would help business in Kentucky rather than hurt it.
Cooper, president of Covington-based tech company C-Forward and a Kentucky Chamber Board Member, told legislators he disagrees with opponents of a statewide smoking ban who say that the legislation would be harmful to business—pointing to Cincinnati as an area directly across the state border where a ban is in place and bars and restaurants are not hindered in any way.
When it comes to the opposition to the legislation by some, Cooper said he believes some of the people fighting the smoke-free bill were also against the seatbelt law.
“But our state acknowledged a few things when it came to seat belts, they acknowledged that first seatbelts save lives. That’s the main reason to support this legislation, it saves lives,” Cooper said. “How often can you say that? This is something that saves lives but doesn’t raise taxes. And it’s reasonable.”
In response to concerns raised by some that smoke-free legislation is a slippery slope of government regulation, Cooper said he does not believe this proposal is an example of government overreach whatsoever.
“I am not worried about it going too far, you know why? Because we are not anywhere close to going far enough,” Cooper said. You can more of Cooper’s testimony to the committee in the video below:
Also testifying in front of the committee, Twin Lakes Medical Center CEO Wayne Meriwether told lawmakers the tobacco related health care costs in the state could be lessened by smoke free legislation and save taxpayer dollars.
Meriwether said tobacco-related health care costs overall reach $1.92 billion per year, also adding the cost for secondhand smoke costs total $106 million per year alone. (Hear more of the cost figures in the video below).
In response to the figures, state Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said that money needs to be spent elsewhere as he noted the budget process and the way lawmakers are looking in all areas to cut just to find a few million dollars when this money could be spent on things like education.
“This is a legislative responsibility statewide,” Carroll said. “You cannot escape it as much as you would like to politically, you’ve got to face up to the issue and I am ready to join you as I have been ready to do in the past.”
State Sen.-elect Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, also said this should be a bipartisan issue. Adams said she realizes many of her senate Republican colleagues have voiced opposition to the issue stating that it is not conservative to infringe on the rights of business owners. But she argued that the legislation is about much more than that.
“For anyone who says it is not conservative, I submit to you that saving taxpayer dollars is one of the most conservative things that we can do as members of the General Assembly,” Adams said.
State Rep. Bob DeWeese, R-Louisville, voiced his support for the bill but also added the legislation has passed the House Health and Welfare Committee before but has not received a vote on the House floor. Westrom replied by asking the legislators to call the members of leadership on both sides of the aisle and have this issue brought up for a vote.
There is strong support from the state’s business community to see a statewide smoke free workplace law adopted, which is why the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has been a long supporter of the bill. In a recent survey of Chamber membership, over 92 percent said they favor a statewide smoke free law.