The Harbinger Online

New law bans indoor public smoking in Kansas

This summer, lighting up in a public place could cost you.

On March 12, Governor Mark Parkinson signed the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act into law, eliminating indoor smoking in all restaurants, bars and workplaces throughout the state. Offenders will be charged fines of up to $100 for a first offense and as much as $500 for multiple offenses once the ban goes into effect on July 1.

The only public places exempt from the smoking ban will be state-run casinos, tobacco stores, 20 percent of hotel rooms in the state and private clubs such as Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Thirty-two states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, currently have comprehensive public smoking bans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, an anesthesiologist doctor, voted for the ban and was on the floor of the House when it passed. She said she couldn’t be happier.

“I was elated, I actually got tears in my eyes,” Bollier said. “To be able to help improve the health of thousands upon thousands of people was just a phenomenal experience.”

Senior Jake Fleming feels that it should be up to the individual business owner, rather than the government, to decide if their establishment will permit smoking or not. However, Fleming believes the ban will make going out to eat more pleasant for people that don’t smoke, like himself.

“You just don’t want to go to eat dinner in a restaurant and smell smoke that you don’t want to smell and you can almost taste it, too,” Fleming said.

Former state Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Hills resident, wrote the bill and steered it through its nearly four year journey to the Governor’s desk. Wysong has lost five members of his family to tobacco-related diseases, including his sister-in-law during his first year in the Senate. Dr. Mark Allen, a friend of Wysong and parent of three East alumni, believes the bill will be a good legacy for the retired state senator.

Wysong said the bill will save lives along with saving Kansas taxpayers millions of dollars. According to the Kansas Health Policy Authority, $927 million is spent each year in Kansas on smoking-attributable medical expenses, of which $196 million comes from the state’s Medicaid program, a program that gives medical services to people with low incomes. The KHPA estimates that the statewide smoking ban could result in 2,160 fewer heart attacks and a $21 million decrease in associated hospital charges for heart attacks.

Second-hand smoke has been designated as a known human carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent, by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the National Toxicology Program, at least 250 chemicals in second-hand smoke are known to be toxic or carcinogenic, cancer causing.

Senior Sarah Are hopes the statewide ban will help discourage people from picking up the smoking habit and encourage current smokers to lose it. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment believes that will be the case, predicting that the ban could cause up to 18,500 Kansas smokers to quit.

As Wysong lobbied for the ban in the Senate, he found some of his colleagues were “obstinate and didn’t believe in the scientific facts.” Wysong faced an uphill battle in the Legislature largely because leadership in both the House and the Senate were against the bill. In state politics, Wysong said, if the leadership is against something it usually doesn’t happen.

Wysong said the chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, opposed his bill and wrote her own version with an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company lobbyist earlier this legislative session that was similar to the ban in Wyandotte County, which exempts businesses from the ban if they pay a fine.

“They were trying to make a bill that they knew would never pass, that would get vetoed by the Governor, that if it came back to the Senate would never pass, but they were just trying to stall it and stall it and stall it and let it try to go away,” Wysong said.

Opponents of the bill, such as state Sen. Karin Brownlee of Olathe, also cite the casino exemption as one of the legislation’s flaws. They feel the Legislature was playing favorites by exempting state-run casinos, but restricting private business owners.

Wysong tried several times to pass a “clean” bill, but Senators who tacked on amendments and exemptions thwarted his initial efforts. Having exemptions in the bill was never a part of Wysong’s original plan, but he felt it was the only way he could get the bill passed.

“I wish it was a totally clean bill,” Wysong said. “I wish we didn’t have to exempt the casino floors.  I wish we didn’t have to exempt 20 percent of hotel rooms… but politics is politics, and I would not have been able to get it through the Senate if I tried to [not] exempt the casinos because I wouldn’t have gotten the vote.”

Pat Roberts, a partial owner of the eight area Johnny’s Taverns, including the one in Corinth Square, feels the ban is biased towards the state’s interests, but believes a statewide ban was the right thing to do. The Johnny’s partners opened a smoke-free location near 135th St. and Nieman in 2001, what they believe was the first non-smoking sports bar in Kansas. Roberts says he and the other Johnny’s owners have been lobbying for a statewide smoking ban since the debate began.

“We were always against local bans because it created an uneven playing field. One city could have it and the other city right next to it couldn’t,” Roberts said.

Country clubs in the East area would also be exempt from the statewide smoking ban because they are private clubs, but many, including the Mission Hills, Indian Hills, Kansas City, Homestead and Milburn Country Clubs, already do not permit smoking inside their facilities.

Andrew Gray, the Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Kansas, believes the bill allows the state to “micromanage” businesses, thus infringing upon the property rights of business owners. Thomas Lambert, the Associate Professor of Law at the University of Missouri—Columbia and the author of The Case Against Smoking Bans, believes that smoking bans are more about property rights than cigarette use.

“We’re not talking here about banning smoking, we’re talking about really regulating property use,” Lambert said. “We’re telling the owners of private properties… that they are not allowed to permit their patrons to do something on their property.”

Deb Settle, President and CEO of the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t feel like the statewide ban will hurt local businesses. Instead, she says a statewide ban would provide a level playing field for businesses in cities that are currently smoke-free. Nine out of ten cities in the NJCCC already have public smoking bans and, according to Settle, businesses in those smoke-free cities haven’t been negatively affected.

“In talking with our local businesses, the majority of them have not really seen any changes for the detriment of their business,” Settle said. “As the President of the Chamber, I have not had anyone call to tell me that their business has flunked because of the ban.”

The Johnny’s Tavern in Prairie Village did feel some backlash initially after the city passed a public smoking ban in the summer of 2008, but Roberts says it’s “business as usual now.” Since the city ban, Roberts has found the working environment at Johnny’s to be more enjoyable and said he doesn’t leave work smelling like smoke anymore. Roberts compares the public smoking bans to the ban on smoking while onboard an airplane, which became effective in 2000 within the U.S.

“The next generation growing up will think that it was just ridiculous that people ever smoked in bars and restaurants,” Roberts said.

Lambert and Gray both feel that the free market would eventually take care of the public smoking issue, if it were allowed to do so. If the free market is allowed to work, Lambert believes that establishments will decide individually to cater to either smokers or non-smokers and that an “optimal” number of each kind will exist in the future.

“What the government is doing is really forcing a one-size-fits-all solution on everybody,” Lambert said. “I don’t like smoking… but I really don’t feel like I’m in a position to force my preferences on someone else.”

Organizations such as Concerns of Topeka Residents have been opposing local smoking bans like the one in Topeka and are now moving in opposition to the statewide ban. Gail Trembley, leader of CTR, believes public smoking bans shouldn’t be for the government to decide.

“Anytime [the government is] going to interfere with the livelihood of businesses or of people’s choices in life of what they want to do, I don’t feel the government should be the ones just deciding what the law should be,” Trembley said. “It should be held up for a public vote.”

Trembley said that a statewide smoking ban will not cause Kansas to become a healthier state. She believes the jury is still out on whether second-hand smoke is really a killer.

“My belief is that I have never had anyone show me a death certificate that shows that second-hand smoke killed someone,” Trembley said.

Dan Conyers, the Head of Respiratory Therapy at the Kansas University Medical Center, doesn’t think Trembley is correct. He believes there’s more than enough evidence to prove second-hand smoke is a killer, including a 2006 report by the last Surgeon General.

“I’ve never heard of anyone that’s said that,” Conyers said. “I’m just really surprised because there’s all kinds of scientific evidence out there… You’d almost have to not believe in science… Even the tobacco companies agree that [second-hand smoking] causes side effects.”

Conyers sees cigarette smoking becoming as uncommon as heroin in the future and believes smoking bans will become more prevalent in the U.S. “simply because people don’t want to have to put up with it.” Wysong agrees, noting that North Carolina, one of the largest tobacco producing areas in the world, has a statewide smoking ban.

“It’s going to happen,” Wysong said. “It’s going to happen in every state in the country.”

Are hopes that students at East will learn something from the smoking ban, something that she believes could have an effect on the generations to come.

“When our government takes action to discourage bad habits like smoking, it helps younger generations witness that it really is a problem and it’s something that we should be concerned about,” Are said. “And, hopefully, that’ll help East students realize that they want to grow up in places with clean air and it’ll keep them from wanting to pick up the habit of smoking.”

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Logan Heley

Logan, a 2011 graduate, was in the East journalism program since the second semester of his freshman year. He was co-editor-in-chief of the Harbinger Online for the last year and a half of his time at East. He also served in a number of roles for the newspaper, the Harbinger, including copy editor, news section editor and assistant spread editor. Logan was also a member of the editorial board for multiple years. He wrote the CSPA News Story of the Year in 2008, the ... Read Full »

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