Proponents of a statewide smoking ban have come up with a new selling point for legislators trying to close a massive budget deficit: A ban would save the state money.
Legislation banning smoking has been considered in past years but has never gone very far. Businesses complain that prohibiting smoking in nearly all public places goes too far, and when proponents of a ban have tried to make concessions, they've lost the support of health advocates.
"It's a budget issue now. This is an initiative that saves money," Sen. David Wysong, a Republican from Mission and longtime supporter of a ban, said Tuesday.
Wysong said the state spends some $200 million a year in Medicaid care for people with tobacco-related illnesses. A statewide ban would save the state millions of dollars, he said.
Studies in other states have shown that heart ailments decrease after a statewide smoking ban is enacted, Wysong said.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee plans hearings next week on a bill that would impose a statewide ban with few exceptions. The chairman is Republican Jim Barnett, an Emporia physician, who supports the ban.
Wysong said the measure would allow local ordinances to take precedent if they were stronger than the state law.
A Kansas Department of Health and Environment report released last year said 26 cities and counties had passed clean indoor air laws, covering about 28 percent of the state's population. The department says about 3,900 Kansans die each year from cigarette smoking and an additional 290 die from secondhand smoke.
Proponents contend a statewide ban is the only way to create a uniform policy on clean indoor air throughout the state. Opponents maintain it would hurt businesses and is an example of the state intruding on local governments.
At least 22 states require all public places to be smoke-free and nine others impose restrictions that exempt restaurants or bars in varying degrees.