A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Please help us clear the air, end tobacco epidemic in rural Kentucky

By Tina McCormick
Kentucky Rural Health Association

We have an epidemic right here at home and rural Kentuckians are the hardest hit. We who live in rural Kentucky know it and we need help to fix it. Will the Kentucky General Assembly step up to the plate to help us save future generations from the scourge of tobacco use, disease and early death?

We know we’re losing the battle against the tobacco epidemic in rural Kentucky. Even though tobacco use has a hold on us more than on those in cities, a University of Kentucky study reports Kentucky’s rural residents favor smoke-free legislation even more than those living in urban areas.

The regular assault from secondhand smoke at work and in public places is a daily reminder that we desperately want and deserve to breathe clean air. Our lives and the lives of those we love literally depend on it.

What is the Kentucky General Assembly waiting for? HB 173 and SB 117 would protect millions of Kentuckians from the toxins in secondhand smoke. Further, smoke-free workplaces would lower the smoking rate well beyond the governor’s goal of lowering smoking by 10 percent.

Another UK study showed that Lexington’s smoking rate declined by 32 percent after they went smoke-free—16,500 fewer smokers in just a year, saving Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government an estimated $21 million per year in healthcare costs. Why do we continue year after year to deny rural Kentuckians these same protections and health benefits?

The General Assembly must act now to fix the tobacco epidemic in rural Kentucky. Those of us who live in rural areas start using tobacco at a younger age, we use it more heavily, and we are more likely to breathe secondhand smoke at work and at home than those who live in the cities and suburbs in the Commonwealth.

If Kentucky does not take bold steps to fix this problem, our children are doomed to a life of early death and chronic disease, leaving Kentucky last in all the health rankings for years to come. We care too much about our loved ones and our future generations to lose this battle. Rural Kentuckians deserve better.

It is time for a smoke-free Kentucky, a simple, cost-effective solution to the tobacco epidemic in rural Kentucky. There is absolutely no reason not to pass this common sense law when nearly two-thirds of those living in rural Kentucky want smoke-free workplaces and public places. In some areas of rural Kentucky there are few to no smoke-free workplace options. We really need a law so that every workplace regardless of where is smoke-free.

We can save future generations from needless suffering. We deserve to be protected from secondhand smoke. We want the same health benefits afforded to those who live in smoke-free communities. Not only would smoke-free protections be good for us in rural Kentucky but it will save the money we spend treating people who are sick from tobacco smoke. We can no longer afford NOT to bring smoke-free air to rural Kentucky.

In addition to the life- and cost-saving benefits, the other good news is that smoke-free legislation will not hurt our rural economy. A 2011 UK study showed that the economies in Kentucky counties have not been affected in any way from local smoke-free laws.

The study reported that neither rural nor urban counties in Kentucky experienced a loss of economic activity following smoke-free policies. In fact, in June 2013, London Mayor Troy Rudder was quoted as saying, “The smoking ban is a non-issue in London. We all got re-elected and new restaurants have been built. No complaints, not even from the bars.”

This is a cry for help from rural Kentucky. We are tired of waiting for clean air. The facts are there. We need and want smoke-free air. Let’s make the tobacco epidemic history in rural Kentucky so that our children can expect a long, prosperous and healthy future. Please help us clear the air and end the tobacco epidemic in rural Kentucky.

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Tina McCormick is executive director of the Kentucky Rural Health Association, located in Henderson.

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