This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier-Journal. You can view it online here.
Over a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” The author painted a portrait of the meat industry where rats, putrid meat, and poisoned rat bait were routinely ground up into sausages. Roosevelt had a decision to make. He could place the rights of business over protecting the safety of the public. Or, he could prioritize protecting the public’s safety from the dangers of tainted meat. History tells us that he drove the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. And today you and I can walk into a restaurant or a butcher shop and count on certain quality guarantees.
I have not recently heard a single legislator call for the repeal of that century old commitment. No one in Frankfort has asserted, “While I prefer hamburgers without rat hairs, a restaurant owner should have the right to serve such. After all, the marketplace will determine whether rodent residue adds to the seasoning of a good steak.” And yet that is the pushback we continue to hear when it comes to a statewide comprehensive indoor smoke-free law. Too many leaders continue to assert that they know the damages of secondhand smoke and that they personally avoid businesses where the smoke wafts over their breakfast plate, but that they still want businesses to have the right to allow smoking indoors. That argument inverts Roosevelt’s thinking and places business rights above public safety.
On this issue, we at Kentucky Youth Advocates particularly focus on two populations dramatically affected by secondhand smoke. The first include the unborn. Research is clear that secondhand smoke has a deleterious impact on infants when pregnant women are exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, infant death, babies born at a low birth weight, and babies born too soon.
In Kentucky, 22.6 percent of babies are born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy. Comprehensive smoke-free policies reduce maternal smoking during pregnancy. Smoke‐free communities experience decreased rates of maternal smoking during pregnancy, which is the single most important known cause of low birth weight. With more than 7 out of every 10 births to Kentucky mothers who smoked during pregnancy being paid for by Medicaid, Kentucky can save money by passing an indoor smoke-free policy to help mothers quit smoking.
The other affected group is children themselves. Again, the evidence simply cannot be contested—secondhand smoke negatively impacts the health of children today and tomorrow. Kentucky is ranked 41st in the nation for children with asthma problems, with secondhand smoke a common trigger for asthma attacks. An analysis of several studies found smoke-free laws result in substantial drops in children’s hospital visits for asthma. For example, Lexington saw an 18 percent drop in children being taken to the emergency department for asthma in the 32 months after the law took effect.
A comprehensive statewide indoor smoke-free law will protect Kentucky’s unborn children and kids. It will be a boost to the well-being of families. It will protect workers, including youth workers and pregnant women in the workplace. And, it makes real dollar and cents sense to the health costs associated with our tax dollars.
There’s not much Frankfort debate when it comes to rodents and our meat supply. There shouldn’t be any about the importance of smoke-free protections for Kentucky’s “moms to be” or kids either. We call on the House and the Senate to pass a statewide, comprehensive indoor smoke-free law this legislation session. The time is now.
Thank you to the Kentucky House of Representatives for passing HB 145. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. We want the strongest possible bill to pass both chambers and are working to ensure that happens.