FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Employees and visitors to some 3,000 state government buildings won't be able to smoke indoors or outdoors after Nov. 20.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order on Thursday that bans all tobacco products - including electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco - from all executive-branch-owned buildings. The order does not include property used by the legislature, the courts or any statewide constitutional officers, such as the attorney general or commissioner of agriculture.
"When it comes to preventable illnesses and death, nothing in Kentucky is as devastating as smoking and tobacco use," Beshear told reporters at a news conference in the state Capitol. "Yet Kentuckians continue to use tobacco more than the residents of any other state. And as a result we lead the nation in cancer deaths."
Beshear said even if you don't smoke, "you don't escape," citing the dangers of secondhand smoke. But Beshear's executive order specifically exempts outdoor tourist areas, including state parks, the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville.
"We're just exempting the outside areas of those few types of situations where they're moneymakers for the commonwealth," Beshear said. "We're in competition with places in other parts of the country and we don't want to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage."
Anti-smoking advocates praised Beshear's decision but disagreed with his reason for exempting outdoor tourist areas.
"The overall big picture is great, and we just applaud him for doing that," said Betsy Janes, coordinator for Smoke-Free Kentucky. "We have no research showing that smoke-free would be an economic disadvantage in any way."
But Beshear said he hopes his order will build momentum for a statewide smoking ban in the state legislature when lawmakers return to Frankfort in January, an issue that could crop up in the 2015 governor's race. Beshear's executive order could be overturned by Kentucky's next governor, who will take office in January 2016.
Hal Heiner, a Republican running for governor, said he agrees that smoking should not be allowed inside government buildings but said the ban should not extend to the outdoors. He opposes a statewide smoking ban, calling it a local decision.
Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who will formally announce his candidacy for governor next week, declined to comment about Beshear's executive order. Comer was in Garrard County on Thursday attending the annual tobacco cutting contest. A spokeswoman said Comer does not support a statewide smoking ban because he thinks businesses should make their own decisions.
Attorney General Jack Conway, the only Democrat in the governor's race so far, said his office will abide by Beshear's executive order. His campaign for governor said Conway would be talking with constituents about a statewide smoking ban and "will review any legislation presented before endorsing it."
Beshear's executive order is one of a number of steps Kentucky has taken to reduce smoking. In 2009, the legislature passed and Beshear signed into law a 30-cent increase in the state cigarette tax. And in 2010, Beshear made nicotine replacement therapy and tobacco cessation medications available to the state's Medicaid recipients. This year, the legislature passed a ban on selling electronic cigarettes to minors.
But a statewide smoking ban has had trouble gaining traction among lawmakers in a state that has had a large tobacco farming presence. House Republican leaders held a news conference in Frankfort on Thursday to talk about their agenda should they win control of the House of Representatives in November for the first time since 1920.
House minority leader Jeff Hoover said he would discuss the smoking ban with the Republican caucus.
"We're not going to be afraid to take on any issue and we're not going to just hide it in a closet and hope it goes away," Hoover said. "We will take on the issues and that will be one of them."
A spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the speaker supports a statewide smoking ban.
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