Kentucky High Court Upholds City's Smoking Ban

A ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and many other public buildings in Lexington, the heart of the burley tobacco (search) belt, was upheld Thursday by the Kentucky Supreme Court (search).

The court, in a 6-1 ruling, said the city had acted within its authority to "promote and safeguard public health." It also said the ordinance could be enforced immediately, and city officials said it would go into effect next Tuesday.

The local government passed the ordinance in July following a task force study of the health effects of secondhand smoke (search). The ordinance had been on hold while a group of bar and restaurant owners sued to block it.

The ordinance drew national attention because of Kentucky's role as a tobacco producer and its reputation as a smoker's state. A third of Kentucky adults smoke, the highest rate in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search).

The court struck down a part of the ordinance banning "ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia" in no-smoking areas. The justices said it was too vague.

Beyond that, the court dismissed opposition arguments that the local government had overstepped its authority and butted into private business.

Writing for the court, Justice Donald Wintersheimer said the issue was not whether restriction of smoking was good policy. He said that would be for voters to decide.

But cities are given great latitude in matters pertaining to the public's general welfare, Wintersheimer wrote. "Among the police powers of government, the authority to promote and safeguard public health is a high priority," the opinion said.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice William Graves said the ordinance was "arbitrary and oppressive" and an infringement on property rights. He said business owners should decide for themselves whether to prohibit smoking in their establishments, and customers who disagreed were free to go elsewhere.

State lawmakers sympathetic to the ban's opponents tried but failed to get the General Assembly to pre-empt local smoking bans, as it had done in voiding gun-control ordinances in Lexington and Louisville in the 1980s.

City officials pledged not to go overboard when enforcement starts at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. "There's not going to be a smoking Gestapo," said Stephen Harris, the local health department's enforcement officer for environmental health.

A business owner or an individual smoker violating the ordinance would be subject to a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.