A public smoking ban approved by the Kansas House this week will give the entire state the opportunity to share the same smoke-free environment Lawrence residents already enjoy.
The measure that will ban smoking in restaurants, bars, offices and other public places already had been approved by the Senate and is on its way to the desk of Gov. Mark Parkinson, who called for a statewide smoking ban in his State of the State message and already has promised to sign the bill into law. Kansas will join 24 other states with similar smoking bans, including the nation’s top tobacco-producing state, North Carolina.
The ban will apply to retail stores, educational facilities, libraries, courtrooms, theaters, auditoriums and other public places and places of employment as well as public transportation such as buses, taxis and limousines. The bill obviously doesn’t apply to private homes and grants exemptions for smoking areas in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, tobacco shops and private clubs.
It also grants an exemption for gambling facilities — dog or horse tracks or casinos — operated under contract with the Kansas lottery. Rep. Brenda Landwehr, chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, focused on that exemption in opposing the bill, which she called “a farce,” saying its restrictions didn’t go far enough. It is a valid point that exempting state gambling facilities could be unfair to some private businesses, but it’s hard to take that argument seriously from Landwehr, who had proposed a smoking ban that was far less restrictive than the one that was passed and also forbid cities, like Lawrence, from passing any local ordinances that were more restrictive than the state law.
Others opposed the measure on the basis it would have a devastating impact on business at small bars and taverns. That fear hasn’t been borne out in Lawrence and other cities with local smoking bans. In fact, it seems likely that many such businesses are gaining more business from people who enjoy a smoke-free environment. Hopefully, those who opposed the measure will find it has little impact on their businesses and the state will soon reconsider the exemption on its own gambling properties.
Secondhand smoke is more than a bother; it’s a serious health issue. Health officials estimate that about 4,000 Kansans die each year from smoking-related disease including 300 through exposure to secondhand smoke.
The new restrictions will take effect July 1. It will be an adjustment for some Kansans, but it will be a change for the better.