LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Tobacco remains Kentucky's top cash crop. That helps explain why the General Assembly has stamped out five attempts to ban smoking in public statewide.
But Representatives Susan Westrom (D-Lexington) and Dr. David Watkins (D-Henderson) are trying again. If passed, their bill could outlaw the hookah bars that Louisville and Lexington's smoking bans currently allow.
"It's time to accept modern medicine and science," Gov. Steve Beshear told lawmakers in his final State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday. "It's time to protect our children and our workers from exposure."
House Bill 145 would include hookah bars and e-cigs, or vapor cigarettes, among the public smoking it would ban. Louisville and Lexington's ban exempt hookah - water pipes for smoking tobacco flavored with fruit or herbal blends.
"Hookah is more like a social thing, it brings people together," said Sameh Najjar, whose Barasti Bar & Grill in Old Louisville offers it as part of its Mediterranean menu. "But I'm not sure everybody should smoke hookah. No."
Reached by phone, Rep. Westrom said she was" unaware" that her Smoke-Free Kentucky bill covers hookah. But she believes Louisville and Lexington were right to apply their anti-smoking ordinances to e-cigarettes.
"We really are waiting to hear what the FDA has to say about the dangers of e-cigarettes," Westrom explained.
Smoke-Free Kentucky would ban indoor smoking in businesses, workplaces and public places.
The ban would extend to private homes operating child or adult day care. To smoke outside, you'd have to be at least 15 feet away from doors, windows or vents.
The bill would require Kentucky State Police and local health departments to enforce the ban by fining violators and business owners or employers who serve or fail to stop customers who light up.
Repeat offenses could cost smokers $250. Business owners or employers could be fined $2500.
"Half of all Kentuckians already live in communities which have (bans)," Gov. Beshear said, claiming a recent survey shows that "66 percent of Kentucky adults favor such a law….(and) 90 percent of Kentucky Chamber of Commerce members support a statewide smoke-free law."
Neither Beshear nor Westrom have provided estimates as to how many businesses or jobs might be at risk should a ban include e-cigarettes, cigar bars and hookah bars.
"It's going to hurt me, but it's not going to put me out of business," Najjar said. "We are a restaurant and a bar." Hookah smoke, he said, is not Barasti's only draw.
"We'll see if it ends up in the bill after all the changes it'll probably go through," Westrom said. "I leave it to my brethren to let me know where the sore spots are."
The bill is set to go before the House Health & Welfare Committee February 5.