New hope for statewide ban on smoking

New hope for statewide ban on smoking

We were optimistic at the beginning of this legislative session. Those of us concerned about health care were buoyed by the recommendations from the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

Among the recommendations that seemed to hold the most promise — politically and from a health perspective — was a clean indoor air law that restricted smoking in public places and work sites. At the time, five Republican senators came together to endorse a statewide law.

In addition, over the past few years the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association, a longtime opponent of the issue, seemed to acknowledge the writing was on the wall. If, as in other states in the nation, we could rally around a statewide smoking ban in all public facilities, it would level the playing field and business fears would be lessened.

The stars were aligning.

When we also consider that smoking is the #1 preventable cause of death in Kansas and that a statewide ban has minimal cost associated with it from a public funding standpoint, we thought it was a slam-dunk.

But it hasn't turned out that way.

Despite the valiant efforts of the Senate leaders who championed this proposal — David Wysong (Mission Hills), Jim Barnett (Emporia), Roger Reitz (Manhattan), Vicki Schmidt (Topeka), and Pete Brungardt (Salina) — a barrage of last-minute amendments served to water down the bill with exemptions that ran the gamut from gaming facilities to cigar fundraising events. In the end, even the sponsoring legislators could not endorse the revised version.

On Feb. 27, however, Senator Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, took another chance. She introduced a "clean" Clean Indoor Air bill that would through legislative action protect thousands of Kansans from the health dangers of secondhand smoke. With few exemptions, it promises to level the playing field for employers and improve the health of Kansans.

This bill also promises to align us with 23 other states that recognize the fiscal and health advantages of a statewide ban on smoking, including neighboring Nebraska, which just passed its own version of the legislation this week.

We hope this is the year Kansas follows the lead of Senators Kelly, Wysong, Barnett, Reitz, Schmidt and Brungardt, and others who care about protecting the health of the public.

— Gary C. Doolittle, MD, Chair of Kansans for Better Health

Note: Kansans for Better Health is a group of more than 20 health-related organizations and associations promoting health initiatives in Kansas.