Monday, May 26, 2014

Tobacco heritage blocks smoking bans in rural Kentucky

"A mural showing a tobacco harvest has been on display high in
the second-floor rotunda of the Bourbon County Courthouse for
than 100 years," Mary Meehan writes. (Herald-Leader photo) 

Bourbon County's strong tobacco heritage is the main obstacle for proponents of a local smoking ban, and similar feelings exist in many Kentucky counties, Mary Meehan reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader in the second of a series of stories about tobacco use in Kentucky.

"At an April political forum at Bourbon County High School, cigarette butts lined the walkway to the auditorium, although the campus is designated smoke-free," Meehan writes. "Onstage, candidates for city council and magistrate were asked whether they would support a smoking ban. Some said they had fathers or sisters who were longtime smokers who had cancer, most said they didn't smoke, and a few said they weren't sure smoking was really a health risk. Of 18 candidates, only one said he would support a smoking ban. He didn't win in last week's primary election."

The forum was organized by Students Making a Change in Our Communities, a youth group advocating a smoking ban. They have helped rejuvenate efforts begun three years ago by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Bourbon County and Cyndi Steele, health coordinator for the Bourbon County Health Department.

"Twelve of Kentucky's 120 counties and 26 cities have enacted some type of smoke-free ordinance," Meehan notes. "In Kentucky, 34 percent of the population is protected by smoke-free laws. Almost all Kentucky cities with bans are county seats, leaving most of rural Kentucky without smoking regulations. Efforts to enact a statewide ordinance have failed in the legislature.

"Across the country, about half the population lives in places with smoke-free rules, said Cynthia Hallett, executive director of the nonprofit Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. She said the science on the dangers of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke was clear, as were the benefits of smoke-free laws. Kids who grow up where smoking is banned in public places are less likely to smoke, she said. People tend to quit when towns go smoke-free." (Read more)

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