Kansas Senate passes smoking ban

TOPEKA | Don’t snuff out those cigarettes just yet. A proposed statewide ban on public smoking in Kansas has a long way to go before it’s the law.

The Kansas Senate approved the ban Tuesday but it faces long odds in the Kansas House. Still, it’s the first time a smoking ban has passed either chamber of the Legislature.

“It’s just a matter of time,” said Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Hills Republican who pushed for the ban. “This is happening all over the country and all over the world.”

The bill would ban smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces and most other public areas. Private clubs, casinos, beer gardens and tobacco shops would be exempt. It would replace the myriad local smoking bans now in place.

Wysong said a smoking ban will save lives by preventing second-hand smoke and encouraging smokers to quit. And he argues it will save the state money in reduced health costs.

More than half the state’s population live in one of the more than 30 cities or counties that already ban public smoking.

Opponents to a statewide ban say that’s evidence the current system of allowing local communities to choose is working well. They say the state shouldn’t take away that local decision-making.

The bill, SB 25, now moves to the House, where it is likely to be sent to a committee for study. House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said he believes smoking restrictions are best written at the local level. And he said he doesn’t like to tell businesses how to operate.

“I think about the business people and their rights,” Merrick said. “If I don’t want to go someplace that allows smoking, I can always go someplace else.”

The Legislature has repeatedly rejected attempts to pass a statewide smoking ban. Most years it doesn’t even get to a vote.

Lawmakers supportive of the measure note that lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the state, and tobacco-related illnesses claim some 3,300 Kansans every year, according to state health figures.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, said that the ban is likely the most significant piece of health reform legislation that could come out Topeka this year. She called Senate passage of the bill “a huge step forward.”

But the House? “I’m not overly optimistic,” Sebelius said.

That’s good news to Tim Christopher, owner of PJ’s bar and grill in Shawnee. He predicts he could lose up to 40 percent of his customers if they were no longer allowed to smoke.

“It would be devastating,” Christopher said. “I could go under.”

Some bar and restaurant owners said they’re resigned to smoking bans. And one said he’s come to support them.

“You have to really have your head in the sand to believe this isn’t going to happen,” said Louie Riederer, co-owner of six Johnny’s Taverns in the metro area.

Riederer still has philosophical objections to the state imposing smoking bans on businesses. But he said the patchwork of smoking rules now in place make it more confusing to customers, and put owners at a disadvantage.

Restaurants and bars in a city with a ban can lose out to those just outside city limits.

“You can go from town to town and you don’t know where you can smoke and where you can’t,” Riederer said. “We need everybody to play by the same rules.”

How metro area lawmakers voted on the statewide smoking ban, SB 25:

Republicans voting yes: David Wysong, Mission Hills; Julia Lynn and Karin Brownlee, both of Olathe; John Vratil, Leawood; Tim Owens and Jeff Colyer, both of Overland Park.

Republicans voting no: Mary Pilcher Cook, Shawnee.

Democrats voting yes: David Haley and Kelly Kultala, both of Kansas City, Kan.

Democrats voting no: Tom Holland, Baldwin City and Chris Steineger, Kansas City, Kan.