Elections

Statewide smoking ban starts on July 1 (2010)

TOPEKA — Kansas will go smoke-free indoors on July 1, after a narrow vote Thursday sent a smoking ban to the governor's desk.

The ban includes restaurants, bars, workplaces and other public spaces. It would permit smoking in a few places, including private clubs, tobacco shops and the gaming floors of state-owned casinos.

It overrides less-strict local smoking bans, including Wichita's partial ban.

"You are making a legacy vote to let all Kansans breathe clean air," said Rep. Charlie Roth, R-Salina, who carried the bill onto the House floor, shortly before the 68-54 vote.

The Senate had passed the bill, Senate substitute for House Bill 2221, during the last session.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, pushed for the ban to pass this year and called the vote a victory.

"Today's success took many years and many struggles, but thanks to a bipartisan coalition in the legislature, the tireless efforts of our state's health advocates and the support of the Kansas people, this legislation will soon become law," he said in a written statement.

The news didn't go over well at the Heritage Restaurant in south Wichita, which has been able to allow smoking under Wichita's partial ban by serving only those 18 and older.

"You should be able to smoke where you want. If people don't like it, they can leave," said Don Kinkade, a retired Wichitan who sat smoking at a table in the restaurant with a nonsmoking pal.

Kinkade said he'd probably still frequent the Heritage after the ban goes into effect, and probably still use tobacco.

"I'll probably chew," he said.

The law won't have an impact at the Anchor bar and restaurant at 1109 E. Douglas, which was scheduled to adopt a no-smoking policy in April.

Assistant manager Scottie Workman said the business already has a smoke-free lunch hour, and he said didn't think extending the ban was going to have a major impact on business.

Most big cities around the country have banned indoor smoking in public places, he said, and he figured it was only a matter of time before the trend reached Kansas.

"It's something that was going to come around regardless," he said. "I didn't think it would be too long before it got here."

More than 30 states have some form of an indoor smoking ban, although the bans vary. Nebraska bans smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars. Colorado bars indoor smoking in restaurants and bars. Missouri and Oklahoma have no statewide ban.

Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell, who helped craft Wichita's smoking ordinance that went into effect 17 months ago, said it was clear even then that the state was moving in this direction.

The Wichita ordinance required businesses that allow patrons under the age of 18 to ban smoking or build a separate room to contain it. Some restaurants built smoking rooms at a cost of up to $45,000.

"I thought the Wichita smoking ordinance worked very well," Longwell said.

Those who built rooms for smokers knew the state could pass a comprehensive ban at some time, he said.

"It shouldn't come as a total surprise that something like this might pre-empt all the dollars they spent," Longwell said. "But I feel for them. You have to appreciate business owners who reach out and do the best they can for clients on all sides of this issue."

Exemptions criticized

During about two hours of debate in Topeka, opponents of the bill criticized it for infringing on the rights of businesses and for exempting state-owned casinos.

"If we truly feel the smoking ban in public places is the right thing to do for our state, we should not exempt casinos," said Rep. Dave Crum, R-Augusta, who said he supported a ban but voted against the bill because of its exemptions.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee that declined to act on the bill last year, called the exemptions hypocrisy.

"If this is about health, let's get serious," said Landwehr, who has long opposed a statewide smoking ban.

Others worried about the ban's effect on businesses.

At one point, opponents to the bill attempted unsuccessfully to table the measure.

Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, a retired anesthesiologist, criticized the attempt to delay a vote.

"While we continue to debate and debate ... people are dying, people are becoming ill; they are asking you to help them stay well," she said.

More than 50 supporters of the statewide ban came to the Statehouse on Thursday wearing black T-shirts urging the bill's passage. When the final vote was tallied, they applauded.

Cherri Dorsett of Wichita has been working on the issue for about a year. She said she expected to go out with her family more frequently once the ban takes effect.

"I'm excited, I'm just excited," she said.

She said local control had failed, pointing to Wichita's partial ban. "When you get business involved, they seem to push the leaders' buttons and they really don't listen to the community about what they really want," she said.

Ryann Summerford, an organizer for the American Cancer Society, called the measure "a tremendous step forward."

Although there are exemptions, they are narrowly constructed, and the bill does protect most Kansans, she said.

Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said he was pleased to see the House adopt the bill.

"It's a step forward for public health for the state of Kansas, and it will help protect Kansans from exposure to known cancer-causing agents," he said.

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