Health-board smoking bans that Supreme Court struck down are still being obeyed: ‘Everybody loves it,’ advocate says

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Three counties in Kentucky with unenforceable smoking bans
continue to be smoke-free by the people’s choice.
Clark, Madison and Woodford counties have smoking bans that
can’t be enforced because they are regulations of county health boards, which
the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in June do not have the power to ban smoking
in public places. But officials in each
county reported that most of the establishments in these counties continue to
be smoke-free by choice.
“We are finding, in
general, public spaces and restaurants are still complying with regulations as
if it is still enforceable,” said Christie Green, public-information officer
for the Madison County Health Department. “It seems as if the general public prefers this.”
In Versailles, the city council “hadn’t heard from one
single tax-payer who is opposed to it,” recently resigned city council
member Sonny Jones said in an interview before his resignation.
Scott Lockard, director of public health in Clark County,
said likewise. “The community has remained smoke free. The public has demanded
this, ” he said, and as far as he was aware “No businesses have gone backward
in this.”
That doesn’t surprise Ellen Hahn, director for the Kentucky
Center for Smoke-Free Policy
and the state’s leading smoking-ban advocate.
“When communities go smoke free, everybody loves it,” she said.
The anti-smoking
regulations can’t be enforced, advocates said. “If enforced, a lawsuit might result,” Lockard said. “We
have no active enforcement right now in Clark County.”

The court ruled in a case from Bullitt County, where a local judge had blocked enforcement.

Each of the other counties is handling the issue somewhat
differently.

Woodford County, out of “respect for the cities” of Midway
and Versailles, will let them determine whether they want to reinstate their
previously enacted smoking bans before the county fiscal court makes a decision for
the unincorporated area of the county, County Attorney Alan George said,
“because the bulk of the affected business is in the city.”
Midway passed a new anti-smoking ordinance Aug. 18 and
Versailles plans to hold its first reading on one Sept. 2.
Madison County plans second reading and passage of its
smoking ordinance for Sept. 9. Berea is
scheduled to do likewise Sept. 2.
Clark County has “no forward actions” or “no ordinance
drafted” at this time, Lockard said. Asked if officials are waiting on the Nov. 4 election to move forward,
he said that “no one had come out and said the election will play a role,” but
he noted that the Winchester mayor and the county judge-executive have
opponents.
The Supreme Court ruling was a great disappointment to
smoke-free advocates. Betsy Janes, coordinator for Smoke Free Kentucky, said
several health boards had been ready to implement smoke-free regulations, but
were waiting on the Supreme Court. These plans obviously have had to change.
“It was a major blow, but the good thing is that it is very
clear who has the authority to do this now,” Janes said. “Fifty-five percent of
Kentuckians want to be smoke free. We are losing 1000 Kentuckians a year to
second hand smoke,” based on research that has determined its effects.
While Hahn said the decision was a “step backwards for
Kentucky,” she also said her center is “busier than ever” working with fiscal
courts to create smoke-free laws on the local level. She said there are 35 city or county ordinances
in effect, covering 31 percent of Kentuckians.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supports statewide smoking
ban, which has never come to a vote in either chamber of the legislature.
“Twenty-four other states have statewide smoke-free laws and
we want to not be the last to join them,” said Ashli Watts, the chamber’s
public-affairs manager.
While Clark County is not pursuing a smoke-free ordinance
now, the health department is actively educating the public about the benefits
of such laws and plans to be a strong advocate to get something passed, Lockard
said.
“We are finding overwhelming positive response to
smoke-free,” he said. “The Board of Health and health department will work in
any way possible to get a law on the books.”
Lockard also voiced his hope that school boards will pass
smoke-free policies in schools, which he said should be attainable because no
legislation is needed.
“There are 174 school districts in Kentucky and less than 40
of them have smoke-free policies on their campuses,” Lockard said. “If we could
have all schools smoke-free, that would have a major impact on our
communities.”

Lockard reflected on what Tom Frieden, director of the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in his recent visit to
Kentucky, that the most important changes Kentuckians need to make to improve
their health are to stop smoking, decrease secondhand smoke exposure, and to
exercise.
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