A report released today by the Tobacco-Free Northern Kentucky coalition and the Northern Kentucky Health Department looks at Kenton County’s smoke-free law, which went into effect in April of 2011.
Kenton County Fiscal Court ordinance 451.15 prohibits smoking in public buildings, establishments in public buildings and places of employment, with exemptions provided for private clubs and any establishment that serves alcohol and does not allow patrons under the age of 18. The Northern Kentucky Health Department was designated with implementing and enforcing the ordinance.
“Kenton County businesses and their patrons are largely compliant with the smoke-free law,” said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health for the Health Department.
The Health Department is responsible for determining if Kenton County establishments meet the requirements for an exemption under the ordinance, for investigating complaints of violations and issuing any fines as necessary. The Health Department collaborates with the Kenton County Attorney in instances where interpretations or court actions may be necessary.
Currently, 62 eligible Kenton County establishments have received an exemption, down from a high of 78 establishments in April of 2012. A list of exempt establishments is maintained on the Health Department’s website.
During the first 18 months beginning in April 2011, the Health Department received 59 complaints of violations of the ordinance. In subsequent years, the number of complaints decreased dramatically. Since 2012, fewer than seven complaints have been received each year.
In 2011, two businesses were levied fines totaling $200 for violating the smoke-free law, but no businesses have been fined since.
Exposure to secondhand smoke
“While Kenton County’s smoke-free law has improved air quality in many Kenton County businesses and does protect children, many workers and patrons are still exposed to the harmful chemicals found in secondhand smoke,” said Joe Geraci, Chair of the Tobacco-Free Northern Kentucky coalition, and a lung cancer survivor who attributes his disease to secondhand smoke exposure at work.
Results from air quality monitoring at 18 Kenton County establishments from July to November 2015 analyzed by the Kentucky Center for Smoke Free Policy revealed that while the air quality in non-smoking venues has remained stable over the last five years, air quality in venues that allow smoking has remained poor. This indicates that workers in smoking establishments are continually being exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals which can have serious health effects.
In those workplaces where smoking is allowed, the analysis found that air quality levels were 16 times worse than non-smoking establishments in Kenton County, and five times worse than standards for a bad air quality for outdoor air.
A regional and statewide issue
“Exposure to secondhand smoke is not just a concern in these establishments in Kenton County,” said Geraci. “Boone, Campbell and Grant Counties have no smoke-free workplace laws. Further, only 32.7 percent of Kentuckians are covered by strong, local smoke-free laws.”
Nearly 8,000 Kentuckians die each year because of tobacco-related diseases. Eighty-five percent of all lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking, and Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer deaths. Smoking is a major risk factor for the four leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Kentucky spends $1.92 billion a year in health care costs treating tobacco-related illnesses. Of that, $589 million is spent through Medicaid. Smoking-related illness and death also cost Kentucky $2.79 billion a year in lost productivity.
“These costs are passed on to businesses, with higher health insurance premiums, lost productivity and higher taxes,” said Saddler. “Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke and is the best strategy for a healthier Kentucky.”
This strategy also aligns with the goal of Skyward’s recently launched myNKY plan. “Last year Skyward received over 15,000 pieces of valuable input from community members on what the future of Northern Kentucky should look like,” said Bill Scheyer of Skyward. “‘Healthier’ was a consistent theme that emerged across the entire region. That is why the myNKY plan specifically calls for solutions dedicated to reducing the number of smokers in Northern Kentucky, as well as eliminating secondhand smoke exposure in public places.”
To view the complete report on the Kenton County smoke-free law and for more information on efforts to advocate for smoke-free policy, please click here.
Tobacco Free Northern Kentucky is a community coalition that aims to increase awareness of secondhand smoke exposure and reduce secondhand smoke in Northern Kentucky. Members of the coalition include the American Cancer Society, Skyward, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kenton County Alliance, Boone County Alliance, The Center for Great Neighborhoods, Anthem, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Northern Kentucky Health Department and concerned citizens.
The Northern Kentucky Health Department provides high quality public health services to more than 400,000 residents of Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton Counties, with a goal of preventing disease, promoting wellness and protecting against health threats. The Health Department seeks to be a nationwide leader in public health, and was one of the first in the country to earn national public health accreditation. For more information, visit www.nkyhealth.org.