Opinion: Toward a healthier Kentucky, with a smoke-free law

By the Friedell Committee for Health System Transformation 
It is no secret that Kentucky is among the
unhealthiest states in our country. 
Kentucky is No. 7 in cardiovascular deaths, No. 1 in cancer
deaths, No. 1 in lung cancer, and No. 13 in asthma prevalence. And Kentucky
leads the nation in smoking with 26.5 percent of its adult population.
Even non-smokers are at risk of diseases caused
by tobacco. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart
disease by 25 to 30 percent among nonsmokers.  It increases the risk of lung
cancer in nonsmokers by 20 to 30 percent. 
This means that waitresses and bartenders (most of
whom do not smoke) in workplaces that allow smoking risk their lives just to
earn a paycheck.  Sadly, 68 percent of Kentuckians are currently exposed to
secondhand smoke in public places.  At this rate it is no wonder that Kentuckians
suffer serious and deadly consequences.
Fortunately, we have scientific evidence that a
smoke-free law will reduce disease rates in areas where such a law is in
effect. Communities that pass comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws
have experienced a 15 percent drop in emergency-room visits for heart attacks. 
ER visits for asthma dropped by 22 percent in Lexington after the
smoke-free law was enacted. 
Also, adult smoking rates declined by 32 percent in
Lexington, saving $21 million per year in health care costs! While a decrease in
smoking rates is not the primary reason for secondhand smoke-free laws, many
people express an interest in stopping, and the laws make quitting easier.
Our poor health is a problem that affects us
all.  It affects our health-care costs, our community health, and a
national perception of us as being an unhealthy place to invest in and
live.  That problem can be addressed by smoke-free local ordinances,
a state law, and/or local boards of health regulations. 
The Affordable Care Act presents a unique
opportunity to look at health differently.  We need to start emphasizing
prevention of diseases rather than relying only on treatment.  Smoke-free
policy is one effective type of prevention. We know that prevention will save
lives and reduce health care costs borne by individuals, private business and
the government. 
The Saving Our Appalachian Region effort in Eastern Kentucky reminds us that Kentucky can do better. 
Going smoke-free is one way. Imagine a Kentucky
where no one is exposed to smoke in the workplace and where fewer people
actually smoke.  Lives would be saved, diseases would be prevented, and
health care costs would decrease.
Thankfully, most Kentuckians agree. Statewide polls show that 66 percent of likely voters are in favor of a smoke-free
law.  This makes sense since most Kentuckians do not smoke.  It is
time for the state legislature to implement a policy that will improve our
health, save lives and reduce health costs.
The Friedell Committee for Health SystemTransformation is an organization of community leaders across the state that
knows that Kentucky is not a healthy state but that working together we can do
something about it.
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