Although its sponsor will be surprised if a statewide smoking ban clears the Kansas Legislature this year, the time spent working on the bill may not be a wasted effort.
The full Senate may vote on the measure approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee this week, Sen. David Wysong said, but he doesn't expect the House to act on it this session. However, he said, the conversation that started in the Legislature this year is likely to make a smoking ban "one of the three or four top issues during the election cycle" leading up to the November balloting.
Like many issues, a smoking ban may benefit from public discussion and perhaps a certain public groundswell. A number of communities, including Lawrence, have had successful experience and a relatively positive public response to smoke-free clubs and restaurants. That kind of public support will make it much easier for future Legislatures to pursue a statewide ban.
The bill passed in the Senate committee would prohibit smoking in indoor public places such as restaurants, bars and businesses. It includes exemptions for commercial vehicles, tobacco shops, a proposed casino in southeast Kansas and designated smoking areas in long-term care facilities. Unlike an earlier measure, however, it eliminated the "county option" provision that would have required all Kansas counties to vote on the ban before it could be enacted. Dropping the county option is a positive step. A statewide ban would be more consistent and easier to enforce.
During testimony concerning the bill, Sen. Marci Francisco told the committee that Lawrence's smoking ban had been a success and that sales tax collections from food services and drinking establishments had actually increased since the ordinance took effect. Representing the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association, Phil Bradley, another local resident, however, pointed out that liquor sales in Lawrence have lagged behind the rest of the state since the ordinance took effect. It's easy to see why that would be of concern to the beverage association, but given the various health and safety issues related to alcohol consumption, reduced liquor sales isn't necessarily a negative byproduct of a smoking ban.
The desire to avoid tobacco smoke for health and comfort reasons seems to be appealing to a growing number of Kansas residents. It may not be the deciding issue for many Kansas voters, but if candidates hear a groundswell of support during upcoming legislative campaigns, they will be much more likely to pursue efforts to institute a statewide smoking ban. Wysong is right that even if the current legislation goes nowhere in this session, it has at least set the stage for that discussion to occur.