Edelen backs smoking ban for workplaces, increasing cigarette tax

Adam Edelen | Photo courtesy of campaign

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen announced Monday that he would support legislation to “stand up to Big Tobacco,” including a statewide ban on smoking in workplaces and raising taxes on packs of cigarettes.

Legislation to enact a public indoor smoking ban across Kentucky has not fared well over the past decade despite many efforts in the General Assembly, though nearly 40 local governments have done so since 2006. A bill to do so statewide passed the House by a small margin once in 2015, but such efforts have gained no traction in the Senate.

Edelen’s proposal would ban indoor smoking in workplaces, with the exception of cigar stores and bars with less than three employees. He also called for raising the excise tax on packs of cigarettes by 62 cents, to $1.72 — identical to the national average — with increased revenue going toward youth smoking prevention programs and curbing the costs of tobacco-related illnesses.

The son of a tobacco farmer in Meade County, Edelen recognized that heritage but added that “the time has come for Kentucky to stand up to big cigarette companies, their lobbyists and their PAC money and move toward a healthier Commonwealth.”

“This isn’t about a nanny state telling people what to do,” said Edelen. “Kentuckians can smoke if they want to smoke but nobody should have to choose between their health and their job. Cigarette smokers don’t have the right to force children, working mothers and elderly Kentuckians to breathe in second-hand smoke.”

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, who is also running for governor in the Democratic primary this year, voted for the similar statewide smoking ban bill that passed the House in 2015. Asked if he supported the same tobacco proposals as Edelen, Adkins said in a statement to Insider Louisville that “I have favored a statewide smoking ban in the past, but we need to look at comprehensive tax reform that doesn’t overly burden our working families.”

The campaign of Democratic candidate for governor and Attorney General Andy Beshear has not yet responded to Insider’s questions on what policies he favors on smoking bans and cigarette taxes.

Former Gov. Steve Beshear, Andy’s father, was a supporter of statewide smoking ban legislation and signed an executive order in 2014 to ban smoking on state properties.

In the current session of the General Assembly, there appears to be growing bipartisan support in both chambers for legislation that would ban smoking on public school property, though no member has yet filed a broader bill banning smoking in all public, indoor places.

Kentucky has the second-highest rate of high school students who smoke and the highest rate of cancer and cancer deaths in the country. It remains one of 12 states with no type of statewide smoking ban, and the American Lung Association recently gave the state a failing grade in four out of five categories on efforts to limit tobacco use.

Legislation to ban smoking and raise taxes on cigarettes in Kentucky usually run into opposition from Altria, the tobacco giant that makes significant political contributions to both parties and is typically one of the top spenders on lobbyists seeking to sway members of the General Assembly on legislation.

Altria’s PAC gave one $1,000 contribution to Adkins’ campaign back in 2010, while the PAC and a vice president for Altria both contributed $1,000 to Beshear’s campaign for attorney general in 2015.