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May 2, 2012
TOPEKA A House committee approved two measures Tuesday that sparked concern from supporters of the statewide smoking ban and advocates of tobacco control.
House Bill 2690 would allow smoking in bars where all workers and patrons are at least 21 years old. There are about 1,700 drinking establishments in the state that would be eligible to allow smoking under the bill.
Proponents told members of the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs that the smoking ban contains an unfair double standard by exempting state-owned casinos and that the exemption should be extended to bars.
Derrick Sontag of Americans for Prosperity Kansas testified that the smoking ban was a reckless expansion of government.
"The proprietor of an establishment should have the right to set policies for the use of his or her property," he said. "Unlike sanitation regulations that protect consumers, smoking bans stop an activity that is clearly visible to consumers who can make their own informed decisions."
Opponents testifying against the bill pointed to polls showing that three-quarters of the public support the ban. Chris Masoner of the American Cancer Society's Kansas chapter said if anything the casino exemption should be removed from the law.
"The existence of a bad provision in the law is not a justifiable reason for making the law worse," he said.
The second measure, House Resolution 6026, would commission a study of smokeless tobacco products as a potentially less harmful alternative to cigarettes. The study would be done by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and results could be incorporated into the state's tobacco control programs.
Proponents traveling from Kentucky and Louisiana said anti-smoking campaigns have helped too few adults quit and a new approach is needed.
"It is tobacco smoke that kills," said Brad Rodu, a tobacco researcher and professor at the University of Louisville. "Most Americans understand that nicotine is addictive, but they don’t realize that nicotine can be consumed about as safely as caffeine, another addictive drug enjoyed by millions of consumers."
Opponents said use of smoke-free tobacco products — such as chew or newer products like orbs, strips, or e-cigarettes — have not been shown to reduce cigarette smoking nor are they necessarily less harmful to health.
"This proposed 'harm reduction' study is tantamount to suggesting Kansas study trading oral and esophageal cancers for lung cancer and emphysema," said Beth Marolf of the American Lung Association.
Both measures were approved by the committee with very few days left this legislative session. To become effective, the exemption bill would have to gain approval in the House and Senate and be signed into law by the governor. The resolution would merely state the desire of the Legislature for the proposed study but would not have the force of law.
Masoner said that, while many observers think neither measure is likely to gain full approval this year, stranger things have happened in the Legislature.
"And with redistricting, the budget and taxes hanging out there, someone could try to slip this through," he said.
Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a legal challenge to the smoking ban seeking to exempt some private clubs.
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