Physician Not Quitting on Smoking Restrictions

by John Gregory | 06/30/14 4:23 PM

Lawmakers in Frankfort have a long history of proposing smoking bans, but have little to show for all their talk. While 28 communities around the commonwealth have enacted some limits on smoking in public places, state legislators have failed to vote on multiple proposals to restrict smoking in recent sessions.

Paducah physician Shawn Jones appeared on this weekend's One to One to discuss the prospects for future smoke-free legislation with KET's Bill Goodman.

With about 30 percent of residents smoking cigarettes, Kentucky leads the nation in tobacco use. The state also leads in deaths from lung cancer, at more than 3,500 per year. The effects of secondhand smoke are even more devastating. Jones says the CDC estimates that 2.5 million non-smoking Americans have died from secondhand smoke since 1964 - and Kentucky leads in those deaths as well.

Legislative Efforts to Limit Secondhand Smoke
More than two dozen states already have comprehensive smoking bans. The latest attempt in Kentucky came in the 2014 General Assembly session when Representatives Susan Westrom (D-Lexington) and Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville) sponsored a measure to make indoor workplaces and public places smoke-free. House Bill 173 passed the House Health and Welfare Committee but did not receive a floor vote.

Jones contends the legislation would've passed the Democratically controlled House, but he thinks that representatives didn't want to go on record voting for a bill they thought the Senate would ultimately kill.

"We didn't win that battle," Jones says, "but it was just that: it was a battle, it's not the war."

Those opposed to the measure said bans should be set at the local not state level, while others argued against more regulations on businesses during a struggling economy. Jones says as a doctor he understands the burdens of over-regulation, but he thinks public health trumps those concerns, especially when the health of children is at stake.

Secondhand Smoke Versus Tobacco Use
Despite being a physician, Jones says he doesn't want to ban all smoking, he simply wants to limit people's exposure to secondhand smoke, whether that's from a traditional cigarette or the new electronic versions. He questions the safety of e-cigarettes, saying there isn't sufficient research to determine the health effects of the fumes those products release.

Another idea presented by some anti-tobacco advocates is to make nicotine a controlled substance, but Jones doesn't see that as a viable option. "I am not in favor of making a large segment of our population illegal drug users," he says.

Jones is sympathetic to the tradition of tobacco farming in Kentucky. He grew up in Franklin County in a family with a history of producing the crop. But he says that people have to accept that times change.

"Kentucky needs a different cash crop and we need a different economy, and that's because what we're promoting is really to the detriment of our citizens," he says.

Jones promises to be part of the push for smoke-free legislation in the 2015 legislative session. While he doesn't expect success next year, he says he is hopeful that a ban will be enacted at some point in the future.

"We've got a tough row to hoe, but I'm a Sisyphean kind of guy," Jones jokes.

Watch the full One to One conversation.