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September 21, 2023

Candidates for Tennessee governor support letting local governments handle smoking bans

Candidates for Tennessee governor support letting local governments handle smoking bans

The Tennessean | Joel Ebert

The majority of Tennessee’s top-tier gubernatorial candidates said Tuesday they support a measure that would allow local governments to implement smoking bans.

State law currently prohibits local governments from regulating tobacco products. A bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, currently under consideration would allow local governments to regulate smoking in certain areas, including hotels, public property and age-restricted venues.

Speaking at a forum at Trevecca Nazarene University hosted by the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness and Nashville Health Care Council, five of the six top-tier candidates said they would support such legislation.

Similar measures have failed to gain traction in the legislature.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said she supported the measure, adding, “I think a local government should have that flexibility. The government is best that’s closest to the people.”

Seizing on Harwell’s comment about local control, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Republicans have frequently undone decisions made by local governments.

“I am certainly in favor of local control and do support that bill,” Fitzhugh said.

Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd, a Republican, said he would seek to do anything possible to reduce smoking in Tennessee, including supporting the legislation empowering local governments on the issue.

Although, due to the format, Williamson County businessman Bill Lee and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean were not asked the question, they later said in separate interviews that they agreed with the other candidates.

Lee, a Republican, said he would “not get in the middle of a local decision to ban smoking.”

Dean, a Democrat, said he would “definitely” support the measure.

“There’s always a balance what’s state and what’s local but that’s one of those issues that I think can easily be resolved at the local level,” he said.

It is not immediately clear where U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, stood on the issue.

A spokesman for her campaign said she was unable to attend the forum because she was attending a “pro-life event” with Vice President Mike Pence, who was in Nashville Tuesday.

Among the host of other issues discussed at forum were the candidates thoughts on combating the opioid crisis, work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries, block grants and ways to improve Tennesseans health.

Several of the topics were previously discussed at another health care forum held in January.

Tuesday’s health care forum revealed:

  • All five candidates supported work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • All five candidates stressed the importance of preventive measures for healthier living.
  • Dean and Fitzhugh continued to tout the need for Medicaid expansion.
  • Boyd and Lee touted programs implemented at their companies encouraging employees to live healthier.

Overall the forum revealed few differences between the candidates, aside from the idea of Medicaid expansion. As has been the case in other forums, the candidates were not allowed to engage with one another while answering questions. 

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