How far are you willing to let government go to regulate a legal activity?
That was a key question that arose in Monday’s edition of Kentucky Tonight as those for and against a statewide smoking ban engaged in a spirited debate.
“I don’t like smoking, I’m not a smoker, and I dislike it,” said Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions and an opponent of a ban. “But I dislike even more government telling a private property owner that they can’t allow a legal activity on their property.”
Dr. Shawn Jones, past president of the Kentucky Medical Association said that government already regulates private property owners through laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said making an establishment accessible to those in wheelchairs is similar to making it accessible to individuals with other health issues.
“Many courts in other states have decided that if I have asthma or reactive airway disease, and you allow smoking in your restaurant, you are barring access to me just as surely as if there was not a wheelchair-accessible ramp,” Jones explained.
“No one is forced to go into these establishments,” countered Ken Moellman of Northern Kentucky Choice. “It is an individual choice.” He said his group is promoting a labeling system for businesses the clearly tells people that the establishment allows smoking and that patrons assume any health risks by entering it.
Ashli Watts, manager of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which supports a ban, emphasized the proposed law isn’t just to protect patrons, but employees as well. She said the Chamber isn’t advocating for any additional unnecessary regulations, but that government does have a role in preserving the health and well-being of its citizens.
“For us this is no different than us telling a private restaurant owner or a private bar owner they must serve clean water or they must serve clean food,” Watts explained. “And, yes, smoking is a legal activity, but so is drinking alcohol. However when someone drinks alcohol and then gets behind the wheel and it could affect someone else’s health, that’s when government has a right to step in and take care of that other person.”
Which led Waters to ask how far citizens are willing to let government go to regulate legal behaviors.
House Bill 173, a statewide smoking ban proposed by Rep. Susan Westrom (D-Lexington) to cover public places of business and employment, is currently before the House Health and Welfare Committee. Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) has said she will file a similar bill in the Senate.