TOPEKA — Supporters pitching a statewide smoking ban are pointing to cost savings as well as health benefits.
Jason Eberhart-Phillips, health director for Kansas Department of Health and Environment, can run down a list of costs attributed to smoking.
If a statewide smoking ban prevented just 100 heart attacks per year, Kansas would save about $5 million, he said.
Studies of the impact of smoking bans in public places, including Lawrence's ban, show a 36 percent drop in heart attacks three years after a smoking ban has gone into effect, physician Michael Munger, president of the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians, said Wednesday at a presentation on a statewide smoking ban.
The data is starting to pile up, said Rep. Jill Quigley, R-Lenexa, at the same presentation. A 2007 poll found that 71 percent of those polled favored a statewide smoking ban. It was commissioned by the Sunflower Foundation, an organization that seeks to help improve the health of Kansans.
"They get it, so I think it is time we do what Kansans want us to do," she said.
Gov. Mark Parkinson has listed a statewide smoking ban as one of his top objectives this year.
A proposed statewide smoking ban passed the Senate in 2009 but foundered in the House Health and Human Services Committee, never reaching the chamber floor for a full vote.
That bill is still alive and could still be advanced to the House floor from the committee. No new bill has been offered.
Few people dispute the detrimental health impact of smoking. Munger said that as a carcinogen, secondhand smoke is comparable to asbestos. "There are no safe levels of secondhand smoke," he said.
Over several years, the studies have started to build up, said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick. The cost savings factored into her decision to vote for a ban last year, she said.
Opponents of a smoking ban say the issue generally isn't whether smoking is bad for you. It's a question of business rights and local control.
"My personal belief is to have no smoking ban," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who chairs the House health committee. "I believe that should be left up to local units of government."
Landwehr said one of the big problems she had with the proposed ban passed by the Senate last year was that it exempted casinos.
Under state laws, the casinos are owned by the state but managed by other companies. It is wrong, Landwehr argues, for the state to exempt itself from a ban it wants to impose on private business.
Although supporters say a statewide ban will help the state financially down the road, an immediate concern is the $400 million shortfall in the 2011 budget. A smoking ban this year won't help fill that gap, said House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
Typically, the state has left decisions such as smoking bans up to local government, he said.
Supporters of the ban have argued that that approach has resulted in a patchwork of bans across the state. Those vary from place to place — not just in who has a ban but also in how the bans function. One rule for everyone would level the playing field for business.
Ward also noted that people already have an option if they want smoke-free businesses.
"Every individual with a dollar bill votes when they go into one of these places with smoking," he said.