By Tim Woerner / Staff Writer

The health impact of smoking is well documented.

Will Barbourville collectively slap on a patch?

Barbourville business owners and residents will discuss a ban on smoking in public places during a public forum at 7 p.m. tonight at city hall.

The forum was called for during a special meeting of the city council last month, and will include presentations by Barbourville resident John Sizemore, Knox County Health Department Public Health Supervisor Susan Liford and American Cancer Society community representative Marti Harris.

No proposal is on the table at this time, but council members are considering future action similar to ordinances in Madison and Letcher counties.

“What we’re not wanting to do is force this down anyone’s throat,” Sizemore said. “We want to inform business owners about the benefits of a smoke-free environment.”

Sizemore said victims of smoke-filled public places are often the elderly who have difficulty breathing and youths employed in restaurants who become more likely to grow addicted.

“They need to be able to go to work and not have a hazardous environment,” Sizemore said, adding that some employers have told him they would want to be smoke-free on their own but would fear a loss of business.

Health issues involving tobacco use are particularly pertinent in Kentucky, which ranks first nationally for both middle school smokers and lung cancer deaths.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for both men and women, and about 87 percent of cases are attributed to smoking. Tobacco use is responsible for almost 20 percent of deaths in the U.S., totaling 438,000 preventable deaths each year.

“This is to get the facts out there so that people understand that it really infringes on the non-smokers rights because of the health hazard,” Liford said.

According to the American Cancer Society, 46.8 percent of Knox County women smoke during pregnancy — the fourth highest rate state-wide. Laurel and Whitley counties are 29th and seventh, respectively, among Kentucky’s 120 counties.

Such statistics ultimately have an economic effect, with increased health care costs and more potential labor removed from the workforce.

“I don’t think anyone on the council is going to argue smoking’s not bad for you,” Barbourville Mayor Pat Hauser said last month, “The question is liberties and freedoms. People that it will impact need to know about it and voice opinions.”

Tim Woerner can be reached at twoerner@thetimestribune.com.

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