TOPEKA — Former opponents of a statewide smoking ban have found a bill they can support.
But advocates of a complete ban say House Bill 2642 does very little.
The bill would create an indoor smoking ban somewhat similar to Wichita's. Businesses could have indoor smoking if they paid a $1-per-square-foot annual fee. A business that allowed smoking would have to serve only customers older than 18, unless it had a sealed-off smoking section with a separate ventilation system.
The bill would override more stringent local indoor smoking bans.
"It's disappointing to see that the price of public health set in this bill is $1 per square foot," said Kansas Department of Health and Environment's health director Jason Eberhart-Phillips, a physician. He testified Wednesday during the first day of hearings on the bill in the House Committee on Health and Human Services. Two or three more days of hearings are expected but have not been set.
Studies, including one by the University of Kansas, show that restricting exposure to secondhand smoke would help decrease heart attack rates by 17 percent, he said. Children raised in nonsmoking communities are also less likely to become addicted to tobacco.
He urged the committee to consider a comprehensive smoking ban, which passed the Senate in the 2009 session but stalled in the House committee.
One objection to last year's bill from the committee's chairwoman, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, was an exemption for the state-owned casinos that have been authorized in Kansas.
Eberhart-Phillips said he would prefer to see the ban extended to the casinos, but would accept a bill that was 99 percent encompassing.
The bill under consideration Wednesday is "closer to nothing at all, to be honest," he said.
Thirty-nine communities and three counties in Kansas have stricter smoking bans already in place, he said.
Stanley Watt, who chairs Clean Air Manhattan, noted that Manhattan's ban was approved by local voters in 2008.
The House proposal "undermines local control if they have opted for that stronger local restriction," he said.
Thomas Jacob, owner of Wichita's Cigar Chateau, spoke in favor of the measure, though he said he did not like the idea of a bill that superseded local control.
Wichita's ban worked because it was developed locally, he said.
Philip Bradley, lobbyist for the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association, said the groups he advocates for liked the measure because it would put everyone under the same rules. The only change he would like is a smaller fee, or possibly a cap on the fee, for a smoking permit.
Proponents of the bill framed it as a compromise.
The Rev. H Setter of Wichita applauded the measure. "It's a compromise bill and it is not comprehensive." Wichita's partial ban is working, he said.
He has advocated against a statewide smoking ban, which he fears would kill his annual charity dinner that has raised more than $150,000 for local charities since 1997.
The bill before the committee Wednesday includes a clause that would specifically exempt events such as the dinner.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, has called HB 2642 a "fraud."
Earlier in the day, speaking to a group from the American Cancer Society, the governor's wife, Stacy Parkinson, advocated for a comprehensive statewide smoking ban.
Smoking leads to preventable tragedies, she said. Almost 3,800 Kansans die annually from tobacco-related diseases, including 380 deaths from secondhand smoke, she said.