The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - A majority of Jefferson County residents are against a ban on smoking in public businesses if it applies to bars and restaurants, according to poll results published Wednesday.
Fifty-four percent of Jefferson County residents opposed a ban, while 37 percent favored the idea, according to the Bluegrass Poll, conducted by the Courier-Journal Sept. 19 to 26.
Support for a ban rose to 63 percent if bars and restaurants were excluded from smoking prohibitions.
"I feel that wherever you go to eat or drink, you should be able to relax," said 20-year-old Mike Turner of Valley Station, who participated in the poll and agreed to an interview. "You shouldn't have to go outside in the weather and smoke a cigarette."
The poll included interviews with 508 adults in Jefferson County and 801 across Kentucky. The margin of error in the poll was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points in the Jefferson County poll and 3.5 points in the statewide survey.
Only 36 percent of Jefferson County respondents believe that local governments should have the authority to decide whether businesses are smoke-free.
Statewide, the Bluegrass Poll found that 41 percent of Kentuckians believe that local or county governments should be allowed to implement a smoking ban, while 32 percent think that the decision should be left to the state legislature. Another 21 percent volunteered their opinion that individual businesses should decide whether they are smoke-free.
Mike Kuntz, chairman of the anti-tobacco group Smoke Free Louisville, said he still believes that public consensus favors a smoking ban on public businesses in metro Louisville, but he said the results show his group has much work to do.
"The poll," Kuntz said, "certainly doesn't indicate the public will."
But to Metro Council member Doug Hawkins, who opposes a ban, the poll shows that people had identified with the message that he and other ban opponents have championed.
"People understand that the issue is about rights and not about health," Hawkins said. "I'm real encouraged by this."
For the past four months, Smoke Free Louisville, which is made up of the heart, lung and cancer associations and is supported by the Louisville Metro Health Department, has lobbied for an ordinance to ban smoking in all public businesses within Jefferson County.
Lexington passed a similar ban in July, and Louisville supporters want a vote by the end of the year.
Hawkins, in an effort to kill the issue before ban supporters can muster sufficient support, is pushing for a quick vote on a strict ordinance he introduced and which he believes will be defeated. If that happens, the council couldn't consider another ban before January 2005.
State Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, who has proposed legislation that would give the General Assembly sole authority to enact smoking bans, said Tuesday he also believes businesses should ultimately decide whether to ban smoking.
"Government has no right making that decision," he said. "People will vote with their feet. They'll go where they feel comfortable."
Vickie Blakeley Barea, a poll respondent, said she wants businesses in Jefferson County to go smoke-free so she can visit restaurants and bars and nightclubs that, until now, she has been prevented from entering because of severe asthma. She also thinks local governments should be allowed to pass ordinances banning smoking.
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