Pass a true public smoking ban

Perhaps Wichita should take some pride in how much a House-proposed statewide public smoking ban resembles a 2008 city ordinance, which allows smoking, for a fee, if businesses prohibit patrons younger than 18 or build separately ventilated smoking rooms.

But as a statewide smoking ban, the House bill is a "fraud," as Gov. Mark Parkinson put it when he vowed to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

True, Wichita's ordinance is much better than nothing, which was the only alternative politically at the time. But as a public health measure, Wichita's "ban" is less than serious. It treats the health of employees and patrons in bars and restaurant smoking rooms as less worthy of protection than that of everybody else.

The recession has since hurt the argument that if employees are bothered by smoke, they can find other work. Meanwhile, free-market arguments about smoking bans — central to Wichita's debate — lose more of their persuasive power with every scientific study confirming that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke and that clean-indoor-air laws prevent heart attacks.

The Wichita-like "compromise" House bill was offered by House Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who personally prefers no ban and even questions whether secondhand smoking increases incidents of heart attacks. "What hard data do we have?" she asked at a hearing last week. "Or are we just guesstimating?"

For the record: "Secondhand smoke can cause changes in heart rate, lipid metabolism, vascular elasticity, platelet activity and oxygen delivery to the tissues," a University of Kansas School of Medicine professor and smoking ban researcher wrote last fall.

And as the Kansas Health Institute reported to Landwehr's committee last week: "A large body of published research indicates that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. Moreover, data from experimental studies indicate that negative cardiovascular effects are seen after very brief (less than one hour) exposures to secondhand smoke."

Some other numbers are worth legislators' consideration, too, such as the $5 million a year that Kansas would save in costs of smoking-related diseases if a statewide smoking ban prevented just 100 heart attacks per year, according to state health director Jason Eberhart-Phillips, and the 65 percent of Kansans in a SurveyUSA poll last month who said they want smoking to be banned in public places.

If they're smart, legislators will not pass weak legislation that overrides the stricter local bans passed in 39 Kansas communities and three counties, as Landwehr's bill would. Nor will they carve out an exception for state-owned casinos — an element of the Senate bill that Landwehr has criticized deservedly as unfair to private business.

Instead, lawmakers should recognize it's time for Kansas to respond appropriately to the public health danger of secondhand smoke and join the 28 states (including tobacco king North Carolina) with true statewide public smoking bans.