New smoke signals

Since 2011, majority of Kentuckians have expressed support for statewide, comprehensive smoke-free policy.

Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in Kentucky and the U.S. No level of secondhand smoke is considered safe. This is painfully clear in Kentucky where we live with the consequences of the second highest smoking rate in the country; the highest rate of births to mothers who smoked during pregnancy; and the highest lung cancer and lung cancer death rates in the U.S.

Smoke-Free Policy

Each year, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky gauges Kentuckians’ views and attitudes through the Kentucky Health Issues Poll – and we’ve been asking Kentuckians about smoke-free policies. Since 2011, a majority of Kentuckians has expressed support for a statewide, comprehensive smoke-free policy. In our most recent poll, two-thirds of Kentuckians of all political persuasions expressed support for a state law that would prohibit smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants, and bars. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, lead to health improvements for workers and the community as a whole. We’re already seeing that impact in places like Lexington, which adopted such a law over a decade ago. Further, CDC notes that the more comprehensive a law is, the greater the decreases in health risk.

This year’s KHIP also found that 61 percent of Republicans and Democrats support raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, and nearly half support further increases in the excise tax on tobacco. If you’re one of the 26 percent of Kentuckians who are former smokers, or one of the 26 percent who still do, you know the best bet is not to start – and not to share your exhaled smoke with others.

It’s no secret that low income Kentuckians bear a heavier burden of disease, as a group, and are likely to die younger than their better-off neighbors. Rural areas of Kentucky – where the smoking rates are often higher and exposures to second-hand smoke often more frequent – are hit particularly hard.

Comprehensive smoke-free laws eliminate secondhand smoke exposure in public spaces and gently remind us smoking is not the norm (if 26 percent of us statewide smoke, that means 74 percent don’t). Incomplete policies that leave some Kentuckians unprotected tend to do the most harm to low-income communities, communities of color, low-wage workers (including young people), and those of us in communities with limited job opportunities.

Because smoking and secondhand smoke contribute to poor health in so many ways – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and other respiratory problems, preterm births and birth defects, among others – lowering exposure to smoking and secondhand smoke can significantly impact the health of Kentuckians. Comprehensive smoke-free laws provide protection for all Kentuckians, without exception.

–Susan Zepeda is president/CEO at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.