Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson on Wednesday stressed the importance of smoke-free legislation in Kentucky at the launch of Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow.
Smoke-Free Tomorrow is a coalition focused on improving Kentuckians’ health from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions, and reducing the commonwealth’s high rates of tobacco use.
Adkisson shared the priorities of the business community — implementing smoke-free schools and workplaces and raising the cigarette tax. A healthy and skilled workforce is pivotal to Kentucky’s success, according to the Kentucky Chamber.
Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said Kentucky’s smoking rate is 60% higher than the national average.
The consensus among speakers was the cigarette tax should be raised by at least $1 a pack to make smokers “feel the pain,” said Chandler. Not only does raising the cigarette tax help Kentucky’s budget situation, bringing in an estimated $15 million per year, research has proven a higher tax rate decreases the amount of smoking.
Adkisson further explained, “smoking is not only killing us, it’s bankrupting us — the Centers for Disease Control has estimated smoking-related health expenditures cost Kentucky more than $2 billion annually, over $700 million is covered by state Medicaid taxpayer dollars, and the smoking-attributable economic productivity loss at more than $2.7 billion.”
“If we decrease smoking in Kentucky, we decrease deaths,” which would help reduce the 9,000 Kentuckians who die each year from smoking, said Dr. Pat Withrow, Cardiologist and Director of Outreach for Baptist Health Paducah.
Adkisson said it is time for Kentucky to get serious in tackling the health crisis in our state and be able to attract new businesses and skilled workers by adopting these popular effective policies.
Jacob Steward, sophomore at Bourbon County High School and a member of Students Making a Community Change, shared his testimony of growing up on a tobacco farm with parents who smoked. He suggested starting tobacco education early because “when you know better, you do better.”
Members of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow steering committee include the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Voices for Health, and Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Chandler said they hope to address this topic in the next legislative session, but they will stay on the issue for as long as it takes. Stay tuned for more on smoke-free legislation on The Bottom Line.