McClatchy-Tribune News Service
ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Jamie Logeman stocks Marlboro cigarettes Jan. 17 at the Smoke Shop on North 8th Street. According to new polling data, almost 60 percent of Kentuckians favor a statewide smoke-free law.
ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
L & M cigarettes are shown Jan. 17 at the Smoke Shop on North 8th Street. A recent survey shows that the number of adults favoring smoking regulations in Kentucky has climbed over the past three years.
Facing some of the highest rates of lung cancer and heart disease in the nation, Kentuckians’ changing perceptions of smoke-free laws shows favor with regulations that could limit smoking in all public places statewide, according to a new health survey.
The Kentucky Health Issues Poll, funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, reported earlier in January that about 59 percent of adult residents across the state support a statewide smoke-free law, a number that has steadily climbed over the past several years as 54 percent favored regulations in 2011 and 48 percent in 2010.
Those numbers mark a decidedly stark contrast of smoking attitudes, as Kentucky still leads the nation with the highest rates of adult smokers, said Ellen Kershaw, advocacy director at the American Lung Association state office in Louisville.
According to most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, about 29 percent of Kentucky’s adults smoked and about 24 percent of state high school students smoked. That’s compared with the national averages of 19 and 18 percent, respectively.
“The American Lung Association just issued a report (Jan. 16) on the state of tobacco control and, unfortunately, Kentucky rated badly in a number of areas like the cigarette tax, smoke-free air, how much funding we provide for tobacco prevention and control, and that’s why we’re such strong advocates for smoke-free laws,” Kershaw said. “We want to try to eliminate exposure to second hand smoke.”
The lung association issued failing grades across the board in that report for the areas of cigarette taxation rates, smoking restrictions, spending on tobacco programs and state cessation coverage.
The report highlighted tobacco prevention control spending. Combined state and federal funding in the 2013 fiscal year for tobacco control programs in Kentucky totaled about $4 million, only about 7 percent of the CDC recommended level.
The lung association also issued the state a failing grade for the lack of statewide smoke-free regulations in workplaces, restaurants and businesses, but according to a further breakdown of the health poll, residents might favor such laws.
The survey outlined 75 percent of participants who have never smoked supported smoke-free regulations, and 68 percent of former smokers supported potential laws. About 37 percent of current smokers were in favor of such regulations.
“We were impressed with the way the support is trending upwards steadily,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, in December. “We think people are becoming more aware that secondhand smoke is real and it’s really an issue.
“If you have to go to work someplace where you have to breath other people’s smoke, you’re putting yourself at risk.”
Zepeda said the report highlights another area of interest, namely the breakdown of smoke-free supporters by party affiliation. Of those participants that identify as a certain political party, nearly 64 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Independents, showed favor with a potential measure.
“I think it’s fair to say to local and state officials who are putting their toes into this water that the public is ready for them to take this action when they’re ready,” Zepeda said.
Advocacy groups like Smoke-Free Kentucky hope to spur legislation to consider the statewide law to ban smoking in all indoor public places.
About 35 communities in the state have restricted smoking to some degree — Paducah being the only community west of Land Between the Lakes with a smoking ban in enclosed public places, as of November — and 22 of those have passed regulations that include all indoor workplaces.
Hopkinsville became the 22nd municipality to implement a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance on Jan. 1 that includes all workplaces, bars and restaurants.
While a proposed bill had yet to pass before the general assembly when legislators reconvened on Jan. 8, a state coalition of public health organizations launched a newspaper and online advertising campaign earlier in January to highlight the need for regulation, reported Smoke-Free Kentucky in a news release.
The Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation spent $93,000 on the ad campaign that contrasts Kentucky’s top-ranked basketball, renowned horse racing, and nation-leading smoking and lung cancer rates.
Supporters of smoke-free regulations found the polling data positive and added fuel to the debate.
“We were all much encouraged by the polling results,” Kershaw said. “It confirms the majority of people want smoke-free workplaces and places where they can go and enjoy themselves.”
The KHIP was conducted Sept. 20 to Oct. 14 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati.
A random sample of 1,680 adults statewide were interviewed via telephone. The poll has a margin of error of ±2.5 percent.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.