Although a statewide ban on smoking in public places has a certain appeal, letting each Kansas county vote on whether to institute such a ban may be a more practical and realistic approach.
The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony this week on a bill that would place a smoking ban measure on the ballot in all Kansas counties on Nov. 8. Residents in each county would be asked whether they wanted to opt out of a statewide ban on smoking in most public places, including workplaces, restaurants, bars and casinos. Communities, like Lawrence, that already have smoking bans could keep their existing ordinances or accept the statewide standards.
Although the committee had yet to hear from opponents to the bill, its chairman predicted Tuesday that the measure would be endorsed by the panel next week.
Proponents of a mandatory statewide ban may be disappointed by the county option plan, but sponsors of the bill have said they believe including a county-by-county vote is necessary to gain passage in the Legislature.
A statewide smoking ban would have the advantage of providing consistent regulations across the state, but forcing every county to put this measure on the ballot still is a powerful step. First, it raises the issue in all 105 counties rather than leaving it to individuals to create their own proposals and mount a successful campaign. It also puts the burden on opponents of the smoking ban because unless a majority of voters rejects the ban, it automatically will go into effect.
Perhaps the best part, however, is that it provides for a countywide referendum on smoking in public places rather than leaving it to local officials to decide the issue. Because the vote will be at the same time as a presidential election, which traditionally draws a large turnout, it will give the best possible measure of public opinion on whether to institute a smoking ban.
Those testifying in favor of this bill point out that approximately 4,000 Kansans die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, and treatment of smoking-related illnesses costs Kansans about $1 billion a year. Lawrence's experience with a smoking ban confirms that the action is greatly appreciated by many residents and hasn't had the devastating effect on business that some had predicted.
If the county-by-county vote is approved, it will be interesting to see how many Kansas counties accept a smoking ban. The county option plan gives Kansas residents the opportunity to participate in the decision and may turn out to have almost as great an effect as a statewide ban.