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Polls may mislead on support for smoking ban

By Jim Waters The Bluegrass Institute

A recent poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky may initially appear to indicate widespread support for a government-imposed statewide smoking ban - even in privately owned restaurants and bars and in local communities that already have implemented their various policies.

Drill down, however, and there is reasonable doubt.

The poll asks: "Would you favor or oppose a statewide law in Kentucky that would prohibit smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars?"

A majority said "yes."

But that's like asking: "Do you believe it's legal to drive 55 mph?" Most would agree.

Then ask: "Do you believe it's legal to drive 55 mph near a school or in a work zone? Most would disagree.

Proponents of a statewide smoking law know that if they offer a choice in these polls, most would favor bans in public places but not on privately owned property.

That makes sense.

Citizens have no choice in where they go to fulfill legal obligations like obtaining drivers' licenses, filing property deeds or casting votes. Most government buildings have already gone smoke free for this reason.

Even most privately owned establishments frequented by the public have already accomplished what the supporters of a statewide ban claim they want: smoke-free atmospheres for customers and workers.

It's been at least 15 years since I went into a McDonald's restaurant where someone was smoking. Even some bars like The Crazy Fox in Newport boom with business after voluntarily implementing bans.

This all happened without a statewide law.

Another issue with the poll: Where do respondents live? Residents from liberal urban areas may have different views than those farming tobacco in rural Kentucky.

Also, how many respondents are bar owners who could be economically harmed by such a law?

Susan Zepeda, the foundation's president and CEO, believes government laws are needed for people to quit smoking or to keep from returning to the habit.

It's easier to keep smokers from puffing away when "there's a big 'no smoking' sign and no one else around me is smoking," Zepeda, Ph.D., told "Pure Politics."

Ironically, though, Zepeda, a former smoker, didn't quit because of some government edict. Rather, she stopped after the Surgeon General said it's harmful.

The fact that Kentucky's smoking rates are dropping without a statewide ban is a testimony to such effective warnings nationwide.

No doubt, it annoys statewide smoking ban supporters that some Kentucky communities, including Campbell County in Northern Kentucky, have decided to allow restaurant and bar owners to adopt their own approaches.

They want to overturn those local policies with a statewide mandate using their favorite tactic: hyping the plight of workers.

Zepeda argues that while diners who want a smoke-free experience can choose a different restaurant to frequent, "workers may not have a choice where they work, especially since the (Great) Recession."

However, there are lots of dangerous jobs - at nuclear power plants, along busy interstates, on tops of bridges - where missteps bring death and place others in harm's way. Are we to ban heavy equipment because of such danger?

No one is forced to work in a smoke-filled restaurant, along a busy highway or on top of a bridge. Neither should any bar owner be bullied into denying patrons the freedom to engage in the legal, if unhealthy, practice of smoking.

No poll should override the constitutional protection against "absolute and arbitrary power."

The Kentucky Constitution's Bill of Rights states: "Absolute and arbitrary power over the lives, liberty and property of freemen exists nowhere in a republic, not even in the largest majority."

And certainly, Kentucky's "freemen" should not stand by and allow government to take away their liberties and legal use of their properties.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky's free market think tank.

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