Despite early hope, the bill to ban smoking in Kentucky workplaces was likely dead on arrival this year.
"I haven't heard anything about the smoking ban bill in... well, really since the start of the session," House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in an interview. "So, I would say yes, it's dead."
"The timing has just not been right," said Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, sponsor of the bill. "We don't have the votes. It seems like in every election year, people are afraid to vote on something like this that they perceive to be controversial."
In addition to it being an election year, Westrom elaborated on a long list of other reasons for why the smoking-ban bill hasn't had any support this year, including: it being a budget year, a new Republican governor and Senate leadership that don't support it, less organization from advocates, a quiet public and the loss of several funding streams.
"There's always next year," Westrom said. "This isn't an issue that will go away because we can't ignore that Kentucky is one of the least healthy states in the country. It always has to be at the top of our priority list."
The latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that two-thirds of Kentucky adults support a comprehensive statewide smoking ban, and have since 2013. The ban has support from solid majorities in each political party and has majority support in every region of the state. But more than one-fourth of Kentucky adults are smokers.
Last year was the first year Westrom's smoking-ban bill passed out of the House with a vote of 51-46. The bill was then placed in an unfavorable Senate committee and never brought up for discussion. This is the sixth year she has sponsored this bill.
"I have enjoyed carrying this bill more than anything I've done over the years because it is the right thing to do and because I really, really care about the health of Kentucky," she said wistfully.
Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician, said in an interview that he had worked very hard this session to get a smoke-free bill together in the Senate, but he just couldn't get the votes.
Instead, Republican senators Julie Raque Adams from Louisville and Alvarado have filed Senate Bill 291 that would require insurers in Kentucky to cover all approved smoking cessation treatments, counseling and medication. Currently, many plans only cover some physician-prescribed treatments and/or medications.
A flyer to drum up support for SB291 says the state has 9,000 smoking related deaths per year; $1.92 billion in smoking related health expenditures; and $590 million in smoking related Medicaid costs. The statewide smoking rate in Kentucky is 26 percent.
"Tobacco is still one of the most expensive cost for our healthcare system in the state," Alvarado said. "Anything that we can do to help get people off of cigarettes voluntarily...I think is going to benefit us financially and is going to save lives."
Adams was pessimistic about the bills chance of passing this year, but said she was hoping for a hearing on it to continue the education process and keep the issue alive.
"The fact that insurance does cover cessation, I think that is a really important thing to get out to the consumer," she said in an interview.
According to Run Switch PR, this bill has the support of the following: American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Kentucky Medical Association, Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Rural Health Association, Kentucky Voices for Health, Kentucky One and Baptist Health. As of Friday, it is currently in the Senate Baking and Insurance committee.
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.