When I was its Chair, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce created a stir in our region by taking a legislative position in support of a statewide indoor smoking ban. 

The announcement stirred the pot of Northern Kentucky politics. It was hailed by some and cursed by others.

Driven primarily by concerns over increasing health care costs, an overwhelming majority of the Chamber’s 2,000 member businesses supported a statewide indoor smoking ban.

Business owners opposed to such action expressed “nanny state” concerns about government mandates restricting their liberty. They argued that practices related to the smoking habits of employees in workplaces should be left to the decision of individual business owners.  

Still, a Fiscal Conservative

At the time, I was Chamber Chair and had no vote on the smoking ban. There was no tie for me to break and I simply moderated the debate. I was glad for that role, because I was truly conflicted. My basic free market and libertarian political tendencies were offset by the concerns being raised by my instincts as a fiscal conservative.

In large part, the free market has taken care of smoking in Northern Kentucky’s workplace. One would be hard pressed to find an office building where smoking is allowed. Factory floors are mostly free from cigarette butts, and there are plenty of smoke-free restaurants and bars.

On The Other Hand

It is hard to argue with the libertarians who support the right of individuals to choose to screw up their own health by smoking. On the other hand, anyone who claims to be a fiscal conservative should be wary when those same people want the government to pay for the consequences of their choices. In essence, don’t scream about the “nanny state” and then ask Mary Poppins to pony up her tax dollars to pay for your iron lung. 

The legislature never voted on a statewide indoor smoking ban and the issue went away for a while. It popped up in the primary election, but only briefly. The fiscal courts in Northern Kentucky are where the action on the issue has taken place.

Kenton County Fiscal Court passed an indoor smoking ban. Campbell County passed a similar measure, but later repealed it. Boone County never took it up.

Once the smoking ban took effect in Kenton County, something remarkable happened — nothing. Jackbooted thugs are not prowling local bars and restaurants in search of smokers. A conference to explain the regulations to local business owners was cancelled because no one signed up. Not a single business has failed. In fact, one restaurateur who opposed the ban says that his business traffic is up since his place of business was ordered smoke-free.

I am going to propose a new legislative position for potential Chamber support that addresses all of my philosophical concerns. Give away free smokes to anyone who wants them, but cut all Medicare/Medicaid funding for smoking-caused health problems. I’m no numbers guy, but I think it’ll be cheaper.