Kentucky Health News
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Over 500 Smoke-Free Kentucky advocates spent Wednesday, Feb. 11, asking their lawmakers to pass a statewide smoking ban, wrapping up their day with a rally and news conference in the Capitol rotunda, featuring leaders of the effort and people who said they were victims of secondhand smoke.
“Our efforts are paying off; there is going to be a vote very soon,” James Sharp of the American Cancer Society‘s Cancer Action Network said to a cheering crowd. “Keep up the good work, keep up the pressure, keep sharing those personal stories. We will get a smoke-free Kentucky because everyone deserves the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air in this state.”
Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, a colon-cancer survivor, said Kentucky “has some of the worst health statistics in the nation” and conditions like heart disease, lung disease and cancer are all linked to smoking. “If we truly care about our children, and our families and the future health of the commonwealth, it is time to pass House Bill 145 and create a statewide smoke-free law,” she said.
“I don’t know how any public leader today can sleep at night if they are not committed to help reforms like a statewide smoke-free law,” Luallen said to a cheering room. “I don’t know how they sleep at night knowing we have more Kentuckians dying of cancer than any other state in America.”
“This should not be politically risky,” Luallen said after the rally. Saying that many rural towns or businesses will not do this voluntarily and statistics support the correctness of this decision, so “Those legislators who are facing a difficult vote have to look at what is the right thing to do.”
Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield, who has taken a strong stance against smoking and tobacco since she took office, said the law would be a strong, quick advancement toward better health. “Secondhand smoke can kill you,”: she said. “The science is clear, The debate is over.”
Joe Geraci, a volunteer for the cancer society and a lung cancer survivor, said he was there to represent those with cancer “who did not make it.” He said that he attributed his lung cancer to the smoke-filled capitol building that he worked in as a lobbyist for 10 years.
Geraci said many of the legislators told him that they were getting more calls from people to vote against the bill than to vote for it, so he encouraged calls to the legislature’s message line, 800-372-7181.
Denny Nafus of Northern Kentucky said his nonsmoking parents, who volunteered at church bingo for decades, died of lung disease, and Kentucky spends $1.92 billion a year on health care and loses $2.3 billion worth of production because of smoking and secondhand smoke.
Roger Cline of Olive Hill said he was there as a “secondhand smoke victim” because he lost his nonsmoking wife to lung cancer from exposure to smoke at her workplace.
Dr. Erin Frazier of Louisville, a breast-cancer survivor, said that she had no other contributing factors for the cancer other than waiting on tables in smoky bars and restaurants between the ages of 16 and 22. She said wait staff have the highest prevalence of exposure to secondhand smoke of any occupation.
“Young, pre-menopausal women who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 70 percent greater risk of getting breast cancer than those exposed later in life,” she said. “and regardless of the age, women who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 25 percent increased risk of getting breast cancer.”
Sandra Castle described herself as a nurse who loved to sing to her patients. She said she worked for 18 years around secondhand smoke, and blamed it for two different cancers, which caused her to lose a vocal cord and undergo spinal surgery. She said she had lost two of the greatest joys of her life, singing and the ability to lift her grandchildren.
Laura Tarakam said secondhand smoke is a trigger for asthma attacks, and a son died from an attack caused by an unknown trigger. Secondhand smoke is a known trigger for asthma attacks, so this puts her living son, an asthmatic, and others with this condition constantly at risk.
Rep. Susan Westrom, five-year sponsor of the bill, thanked the smoke-free advocates for the work they do and encouraged them to be persistent” saying that as lawmakers became more educated, they better realize their responsibility for improving the health of all Kentuckians, not just in the workplace.
Westrom, D-Lexington, also thanked Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, for its support of the bill. Adkisson said “92 percent of business leaders support this legislation” not only because “smoking is killing us as a health matter, but it is bankrupting us as a financial one.”
Asked after the rally about the bill’s chances in the Senate, Westrom said “our numbers are so positive” in the Republican-controlled chamber, and better than they have ever been. She said there aren’t enough votes yet to get the bill to the floor, but it was “very, very close.” Senate President Robert Stivers has said he plans to follow his policy of not allowing bills to the floor unless they are supported by a majority of the Republican caucus, which has 26 members of the 38-member Senate.