Health advocates are calling it an historic day. The House Health and Welfare Committee approved a statewide smoking ban bill 10-2 Wednesday, the first time the controversial idea has made it out of a legislative hearing.
But, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, told reporters after the meeting that the bill will probably not be brought up on the House floor because there are not enough votes in the Senate to make it law.
34 communities currently have smoke-free laws, creating a patchwork of bans across the state. Among the ten lawmakers voting for the bill was a physician, Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson. He says smoking raises everyone’s health insurance premiums. "You know if you're truly against taxes I don't know how you could be against this legislation,” Watkins said during the hearing.
"It is not the role of government to go this far,” countered Rep. Ben Waide, D-Madisonville. “There are personal property rights here that are being trampled."
The other no vote on the health and welfare panel came from a lawmaker who is a cancer survivor and was asthmatic as a child. "I have to respect that the property rights and the beliefs of those that I represent in giving this no vote today, thank you,” said Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington.
"We haven't violated any body's property rights, you can still smoke in your house and smoke in your car,” said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, chairman of the committee.
Despite the momentum created by the committee vote, health advocates admitted it remains an uphill climb. "I care a lot about public health and I call it toothpicks up Mount Everest, we're all prepared to work," said Dr. Sylvia Cerel-Suhl, a family physician from Lexington.
Cerel-Suhl, who is president of the central Kentucky chapter of the American Heart Association, testified for the bill Tuesday.