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SPOTLIGHT
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Smoking exemptions

Published on -3/4/2010, 9:30 AM

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The state of Kansas is on its way to becoming smoke-free. Well, sort of. Once Gov. Mark Parkinson affixes his signature to the anti-smoking ordinance already passed by the House and Senate, it will be against the law to smoke in restaurants, bars, offices and other public places.

Kansans who choose to smoke still can do so in their own homes. And in private clubs, 20 percent of the rooms in hotels and motels, tobacco shops, designated areas in nursing homes and long-term units of medical care facilities, and in the gambling areas of the four state-owned casinos.

We're guessing special-interest groups might have had some influence on this particular piece of legislation. And we're not thinking about those promoting healthy lifestyles who have helped push similar smoking bans in 20-some other states.

No, we can't help but look at the exemptions. If the state is attempting to reduce the number of smoking-related deaths and illnesses, we're hard-pressed to rationalize exemptions other than in private residences.

To say the state of Kansas is the most hypocritical exemption likely is an understatement. The lawmakers who approved this -- and there were a lot of them; 25 senators and 68 representatives -- all caved in to the pressure of the almighty dollar. They fully understand the negative effect on state revenue were the ban to be in place at the casinos. And since the Sunflower State already has thrown millions at neighboring states that approved gambling years ago, the majority of legislators apparently don't want to give any more away.

Why the state gets to protect its cash flow while prohibiting bars and restaurants from doing the same defies imagination -- and constitutional muster, for that matter.

Yet lawmakers cling to their good-health position.

"You'll be able to tell your children when you go home that you voted for clean air for Kansas," said Rep. Charles Roth, R-Salina.

Except for the air in every fifth hotel or motel room.

"People are dying. People are becoming ill," said Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills.

And they still will in nursing homes and long-term units of medical care facilities that can declare certain areas smoke-friendly.

Even the governor called the measure "a victory for workers, families, businesses and future generations."

Well, at least the ones who will be affected.

Therein lies the problem. This is a law that will not be universally applied. The exemptions to this law were not derived from philosophical concerns, any sense of fairness or one shred of common sense.

Special interest groups, lobbying entities and money drive the process. Legislators who don't go with the program don't get re-elected.

We only can hope the judiciary branch will receive a prompt challenge from any equally deserving business which was exempted from the exemptions. This farce masquerading as law should be struck down before July 1, when it is supposed to take effect.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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