Some lawmakers want to roll back the state’s smoking ban and allow patrons to light up at bars again.
A state law passed in 2010 prohibits smoking in businesses across the state. It makes an exemption for casino floors.
Lawmakers have discussed banning smoking in casinos as well. But the bill debated Monday, HB 2690, would go further, allowing smoking in businesses that serve and employ only people 21 and older.
That is similar to an ordinance passed by city of Wichita in 2007, before the statewide ban was adopted.
Bill sponsor Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, said personal freedom outweighed the possible health risks of cigarette smoke.
“We all know that cigarette smoke smells bad, it irritates the eyes, and it can cause people with asthma to have asthma attacks,” he said. “But does that give us the right to tell business owners what they can do in their place of business? After all, smoking is legal in Kansas.”
Garber, who lost his wife to lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, also questioned the health risks of second-hand smoke.
“There is argument that second-hand smoke causes lung cancer — just one little sniff of second hand smoke can give you a heart attack. We should all be dead by now,” Garber said.
Testimony on the bill split down the lines of personal freedom and public health. A number of bar owners and the group Americans for Prosperity all submitted testimony advocating for the rights of business owners to run their businesses how they see fit. The American Cancer Society, Kansas Health Institute and multiple physicians spoke in opposition to the bill.
“There is no doubt that second-hand smoke is a health issue,” said John Neuberger, a doctor at the University of Kansas Medical School. Neuberger turned to address Garber, saying that legislators should consider the good of the public and citing second-hand smoke as a cause of lung cancer, heart attacks, infant mortality and asthma. “You are talking about public health here, you are not talking about an economic rescue for bars.”
The House State and Federal Affairs Committee will work the bill before possibly hearing it again. Committee chair Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said he did not think the bill would make it out of committee without significant revisions.
“It could end up being anything,” he said. “It could be a total ban on smoking. It could be a ban on smoking on casino floors — that seems to be the genesis of all of this, because the previous bill was hypocritical in nature that the ban wasn’t really a ban but the state looking out for its financial interests.”
The bill would not affect other ordinances that take stricter stances on smoking.
Local representatives sponsoring the bill are Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, Gene Sullentrop, R-Wichita, and Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie.