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House panel OKs smoking ban bill

By BRUCE SCHREINERAssociated Press

FRANKFORT - A proposed statewide smoking ban at workplaces and in public buildings won bipartisan backing Thursday while breezing through a House committee in a state with historic ties to the tobacco industry.

Supporters said the measure would protect nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

"We're saving lives," Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington, the bill's lead sponsor, said afterward. "We're allowing people to have clean air that's breathable."

The measure was approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee on a 10-3 vote.

Opponents included Republican Rep. Tim Moore, who said the bill encroaches on the use of a legal product.

"This is too far-reaching and impacts people's liberty and freedom," he said.

Westrom sponsored similar proposals in recent sessions, but supporters couldn't muster enough support.

She made her latest pitch Thursday alongside Republican Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville, who is leading the push in her chamber for the statewide ban. There's a patchwork of local smoking bans in Kentucky.

Denton acknowledged the challenge of passing sweeping anti-smoking restrictions in a state that typically posts some of the nation's highest smoking rates.

"I know that it's going to take some 'profiles in courage' to get some people to vote on this bill because it may not be popular to smokers back home," Denton said in a Senate speech Wednesday.

Denton acknowledged Thursday that the individual-choice argument will be the toughest obstacle for smoking ban supporters to overcome.

"Your personal choice ends when it infringes upon my health," she told reporters.

House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Tom Burch said nonsmokers are the clear majority of society, and they shouldn't be put at risk because of an unhealthy habit by others.

"Why should 75 percent of the people suffer because 25 percent of the people want to kill themselves?" the Louisville Democrat asked.

The bill would prohibit smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. It would apply to bars and restaurants, as well as manufacturing facilities, professional offices and most other workplaces.

Smokers who light up in prohibited places would face fines of up to $100 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent violations.

Business owners failing to comply with the ban would be fined up to $250 the first time and up to $500 for a second violation occurring within a year of the first violation. Their fine would rise to as much as $2,500 for each additional violation in the same year as the first offense.

Kentucky remains the nation's top producer of burley tobacco, an ingredient in many cigarettes, though production has dropped sharply in the past decade.

Gov. Steve Beshear made a pitch for the proposed statewide ban in his State of the Commonwealth speech last month. He laid out a goal of cutting Kentucky's smoking rate by 10 percent by 2018.

"Tobacco use is the single-biggest factor negatively impacting our health," he said in the speech.

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