In recent months the Smoke-free Partnership of Mason County has led a campaign for a smoke-free ordinance.
Such a law would prohibit smoking inside all workplaces and buildings open to the public; it would not apply to individuals’ residences or vehicles, or to any outdoor space.
Although some elected officials are reluctant to pass a smoke-free ordinance, I urge them to consider the benefits of doing so, which far outweigh the disadvantages. Below I will outline arguments I have heard against an ordinance and my counterarguments, as well as additional reasons for which it is a brilliant idea.
1. Business owners should have the right to decide whether or not to allow smoking.
County Judge-Executive Joe Pfeffer espoused this view at the State of the Community Address earlier this month. Pfeffer’s main argument revolves around what he calls “externality of impact,” or his belief that government should only intervene in business if smoke produced in one establishment wafts down the street and affects other establishments. However, according to the Environmental Literacy Council, externalities are “unintentional side effects of an activity affecting people other than those directly involved in the activity.” In other words, an externality has an impact beyond its point of origin, or a ripple effect. This is exactly what secondhand smoke does – the smoke generated from one or more people smoking inside a building has a direct impact on the health of other people in the same building who are not smoking. Our leaders have a responsibility to protect the health of people both inside and outside an establishment’s walls.
2. People can choose to work at or patronize other businesses if they don’t want to be around smoke.
Some people do. But while many of us have the power to avoid smoking establishments, this is not true for everyone. What if a local industry that allows smoking offers the only job in a person’s field in this area? Jobs are limited here, and not many people have a choice as to where they can work. What about kids whose parents take them to restaurants with smoking sections? They are involuntarily exposed to secondhand smoke, even in non-smoking sections. And what about visitors to our area who unwittingly wander into a place that allows smoking? Are we going to tell them they can choose to go somewhere else? That’s not very hospitable, especially for a town working hard to increase tourism.
3. Businesses are already going smoke-free on their own.
Following this logic, Mayor Charles Cotterill announced at the Chamber of Commerce event that he considers a smoke-free ordinance a “non-issue.” For Troy Rudder, mayor of London, it’s the opposite: “The smoking ban is a non-issue in London. We all got re-elected and new restaurants have been built. No complaints, not even from the bars.” While many businesses have opted to go smoke-free on their own in recent years, not all have – and not all will unless they’re required to. Perhaps they don’t want to disappoint certain customers, they have an unfounded fear of losing business, or they just want to keep things the way they’ve always been. But now we know that the status quo is only making our community sicker.
4. Who will enforce it?
Twenty-seven states and over 30 communities in Kentucky have smoke-free ordinances; if they have figured out how to enforce them, why can’t we? Local health departments typically note violations in their regular inspections, and then respond to other violations only upon complaint. Mason County health officials have lobbied for a smoke-free ordinance for two decades and would be more than willing to help enforce it. How it is drafted also has a huge impact on how easily it can be enforced. One piece of caution our local officials should consider is that allowing exemptions would make it harder to enforce as different places would have different rules. The ordinance should be comprehensive and include all enclosed public places and workplaces.
5. Tobacco built this town.
Since the tobacco settlement in 1998, Kentucky farmers have been growing less tobacco and investing in alternative sources of income. That does not mean we should forget about its importance to our history; but we have a responsibility to protect people’s health now that we know more about its harmful effects. Other tobacco-growing states have already taken steps to reduce the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke. In 2006 Ohio passed a comprehensive statewide law banning smoking in all enclosed workplaces. North Carolina’s smoke-free laws, passed in 2009, include all bars, restaurants, and government buildings and vehicles. These states show that it is possible to limit where tobacco products are used when it comes to protecting people’s health.
Additional reasons a smoke-free ordinance is a brilliant idea:
1. Not only does smoking kill, but secondhand smoke does, too.
—According to 2011-2013 data from the National Vital Statistics System, Mason County had 223.9 cancer deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the Kentucky rate of 200.5 and the national rate of 166.2.
— Mason County’s rate of lung, trachea, and bronchus cancer deaths – all illnesses that can be attributed to smoking – is almost double the national rate.
— Four of the top five leading causes of death in Mason County – heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke – are exacerbated by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
2. It’s good for business.
Communities across the nation that have passed smoke-free ordinances show that smokers don’t stop patronizing places that used to allow smoking; they just step outside to smoke. And new customers who prefer the smoke-free environment appear. Moreover, employers no longer face legal claims or added healthcare costs from non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at work. They have lower housekeeping and maintenance costs, and more employees quit smoking because they’re no longer enabled to inside their workplace.
3. It’s good for tourism.
Although hard to admit, when people from other places come here to visit, our community appears backward for still allowing smoking in bars and restaurants. People from other communities are so used to smoking not being allowed in public places anymore that, to them, it’s a given not to expect it anywhere else. People blissfully don’t notice the absence of smoke; they notice its presence.
4. It’s free.
5. It’s popular.
A 2017 survey of Mason County voters yielded 67 percent in favor of a smoke-free ordinance and only 32 percent against. It’s even favored by a majority of smokers, former smokers, and voters who have never smoked.
The Mason County Fiscal Court and the Maysville City Commission have a wonderful opportunity to leave a legacy of clean indoor air in our community. May they have the courage not to waste it.