Smoking bans having the desired effect

Strong restrictions on public smoking enacted in the first decade of this century in communities across Kentucky, including Ashland, have been linked in a new University of Kentucky study to a decline in lung cancer rates in those communities.

While a decline in cancer rates was predicted by advocates of the smoking bans because of the reduction of contact with second-hand smoke, the new study by anti-smoking advocate Ellen Hahn of the UK College of Nursing is the first to show that lung cancer rates go down when smoke-free laws protect workers and the general public from the dangers of second-hand smoke. Kentucky has the highest rate of lung cancer in the country and one of the highest adult smoking rates.

Lung cancer mortality rates in Kentucky here are 50 percent higher than the national average.

Hahn’s team looked at 20 years of lung cancer data for more than 80,000 Kentuckians over age 50 in communities with strong, moderate and weak smoke-free laws. Strong laws cover all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. Ashland falls in that category, although the enforcement restrictions against workplace smoking is left more to employers than law enforcement

The lung cancer incidence was eight percent lower in places with strong smoke-free laws compared to those without the laws. There was not a difference between places with moderate and weak laws and those without any bans.

The study was recently published in “Cancer,” a journal of the American Cancer Society.

When the study started in 2014, 33 Kentucky municipalities had one or more smoke-free laws.

Lexington became tobacco-rich Kentucky’s first city to enact a smoking ban in 2003, partly due to Hahn’s advocacy. The ban was challenged in court, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that it was government’s duty to protect the public’s health. The Ashland Board of City Commissioners approved its anti-public smoking ordinance soon after Lexington, and the smoking ban has had no impact on city elections. In fact, the smoking restrictions are now an accepted fact of life in the city.

However, no other area county or city has followed Ashland’s lead in approving strong restrictions on public smoking.

Hahn’s work through UK’s BREATHE (Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments) has documented other benefits of Lexington’s ban. In 2005, she found a 22 percent decline in asthma-related visits to Fayette County emergency rooms, along with a dramatic reduction in nicotine exposure. Twenty months after the ban, there were 16,500 fewer smokers in Fayette County.

Hahn says she hope her study will encourage more counties and cities to enact smoking restrictions. So do we, but we are not expecting it. For the last four years, the influential Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has listed a statewide ban of most public smoking as one of its top legislative goals, but the Kentucky General Assembly has never come close to enacting such a ban.

As fewer and fewer Kentucky adults smoke, we think the day will come when a state law restricting public smoking will be enacted, but that still is years away. However, it may still be possible for more communities to enact anti-smoking ordinances. That will require an organized effort to pressure public officials to enact such restrictions.

The Independent