Sunday, January 12, 2003

Lexington move to ban smoking drags on

Backers of prohibition for bars, restaurants turn to health board

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Public health advocates are considering a new strategy in their push to ban smoking in Lexington's bars and restaurants.

On Monday, Fayette County's board of health will discuss drafting its own no-smoking regulation, for fear that the Urban County Council has backed away from the issue.

Dr. John Poundstone, Fayette County health commissioner, said if the council leans toward a referendum or against a ban, the health board will likely try to enact its own regulation, he said.

"The city apparently is starting to get cold feet," Dr. Poundstone said. "We were hoping the council would go ahead and do it."

A month ago, the council appeared headed toward quick consideration of a smoking ban in restaurants and bars. But following outcry from local business owners, the ordinance was set aside for further study.

Anti-smoking forces have sent e-mail to their supporters, calling for an action alert.

On the other side, a Frankfort lobbyist hired by Lexington restaurants and bars rebuked the ban's proponents' "rush to the altar" through both approaches.

"I don't think they have the authority to do it," said lobbyist Gene McLean, referring to existing state laws he says can pre-empt action by either the council or the health board. "The issue deserves and begs for a lot more scrutiny and public debate than what has been given so far."

Phillip Scott, a lawyer with the county health department, compared a no-smoking health regulation to rules requiring that restaurants wash dishes in extra-hot water, and that farms pasteurize their milk. Mr. Scott said those issues fall under the purview of the board of health. The board is mostly composed of physicians and health professionals; one of them is Dr. David Stevens, the council's chief proponent of the ban.

Just two months ago, Mr. Scott urged the council to take the lead. Health board regulations can be more open to legal challenges and are subject to more requirements than local legislation, he wrote in a report presented by the council-appointed smoke-free task force. Even if the council proceeds with a smoking ban, the health board could draft its own regulation, Mr. Scott said.

Mayor Teresa Isaac said that she favors a referendum.

If called on to break a tie on the health board, "I would feel uncomfortable, as an elected official, imposing the will of the government on people in what I consider to be an individual-liberty situation," she said.

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Lexington move to ban smoking drags on