- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — This city that was once a hub of the nation’s tobacco trade is now divided on a proposed smoking ban that could shape similar initiatives across Kentucky.

Louisville’s Metro Council decision to postpone an anxiously awaited vote on a ban last month sparked emotional outbursts from a packed chamber split between supporters and opponents. The council is to revisit the issue Thursday, and it is again drawing keen attention in a state with one of the nation’s highest rates of adult smokers.

“As the state’s biggest city, Louisville sets the precedent,” said Mike Kuntz with the local chapter of the American Lung Association. “It would be monumental for cities up in northern Kentucky that are slowly moving forward on smoking bans, like Paducah and Bowling Green.”

The initial Louisville proposal would prohibit smoking in restaurants and day care centers. An amendment would extend the proposal to include most businesses, workplaces and public buildings, except for bars.

But after nearly two hours of debate July 14, it was decided that more time was needed to consider the issue.

Louisville Councilman Tom Owen attributed the hesitation to the city’s merger with surrounding Jefferson County in 2003, when the council grew from 12 members to 26. As a fledgling body governing a metro population of nearly 700,000, the council is tackling one of the most significant issues it has ever faced.

“We’ve only had 30 months experience as a new government,” Mr. Owen said. “We are feeling our way along on an issue as divisive as this one.”

Still, the postponement came as a surprise to many, especially after Louisville’s Chamber of Commerce announced in early June its support for a ban in most businesses, except for bars.

“We would generally be in favor of less regulation,” said Carmen Hickerson, a spokeswoman. “But quality-of-life issues are decisions that factor in to economic development. Those things have as much, or more, weight than traditional economic development tools, such as tax breaks.”

Louisville would be the third Kentucky city to pass a ban on most public indoor smoking, joining Georgetown and Lexington, the state’s second-largest city and in 2003 the first in the state to pass a ban. Meanwhile, efforts to implement a smoking ban are moving at a leisurely pace elsewhere. In Paducah, for example, a task force is to present its recommendations to city officials this month after months of research.

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