Topeka — After years of struggle, smoke-free advocates got the necessary votes during the last legislative session to win approval of a statewide ban on indoor smoking in public places.
The ban, which took effect July 1, prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, workplaces and other indoor public spaces.
But that victory may go up in smoke next year.
Opponents of the ban have been heartened by the results of the November election, which saw an increase in the number of conservative Republicans sent to the House, and say the law may be changed when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said she will push for a bill that repeals the ban and substitutes it with a proposal that duplicates statewide an ordinance that had been in effect in Wichita prior to the statewide ban.
That ordinance allowed smoking in a business if they paid a fee and built a separate room and ventilation system.
Landwehr said the statewide ban has been detrimental to lots of businesses, especially bars.
“Some are struggling,” she said.
Landwehr said some bars have lost lucrative pool tournaments because of the smoking ban.
And, she said, the exceptions in the law are hypocritical.
The gaming floors of state-owned casinos and some private clubs are exempt.
“That is just so wrong,” she said.
Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a Republican who takes office Jan. 10, has said he opposes the statewide ban. He said the smoking policy should be left up to local units of government. He has also said the state should lead by example and ban smoking in state-owned casinos.
“That smoking ban ought to be on the state facilities and leave the other issues to the local control,” Brownback said during the campaign.
Supporters of the statewide ban said the exemptions were compromises needed to get the bill passed.
Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Kansas state health officer and director of health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said he isn’t sure if there is enough momentum to alter the statewide ban.
Smoking bans, he said, have an almost immediate positive effect on public health by reducing heart disease and cancer.
“We will continue to make that case,” Eberhart-Phillips said. Plus, he said, when smoke-free is society’s “default” position, “that sends a powerful message to our adolescents that smoking is really not a cool adult thing to do.”
Mary Jayne Hellebust, executive director of the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition, said she was not aware of any state that passed a smoke-free law and later repealed it. Once the laws are in place, the public generally likes them, she said.
“We have not encountered any huge push backs,” Hellebust said. “At this point, as with any law, once it goes into effect, the majority of people abide by it. People really do like going places that are smoke-free.”
Jerry Neverve, owner of the Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Mass., said he was ambivalent about revisiting the smoking issue.
The city of Lawrence had a prohibition on indoor smoking for years before the statewide law took effect.
Neverve said he believes the ban cost him about 20 percent of his business. Before the ban, he said, he employed 18 people; now, 11.
“You just do what you can and adapt,” he said.
He said a law, such as Landwehr’s, that would require a separate ventilation system was probably unrealistic for his bar and other smaller-sized establishments.
“I can’t imagine a lot of people putting in a whole new system,” he said.