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January 29, 2019 11:29am

How GLI is working to cultivate a healthier workforce

Cultivating a healthy regional workforce is one of GLI’s top policy priorities in both Kentucky and Indiana. This is one of many factors that would allow current businesses in our region to expand and encourage prospective employers seeking a competitive workforce to open new operations in Greater Louisville. But an unfortunate obstacle stands in our way: alarmingly high smoking rates.

Despite decades of educational campaigns aimed at illustrating the negative health impact of smoking, Kentuckians and Hoosiers continue smoking at higher rates than in many other parts of the country. Kentucky, for example, has the second highest adult smoking rate in the nation at almost 25 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indiana is not far behind, at 21.8 percent. For context, Utah—which, not coincidentally, has one of the fastest growing economies in the U.S.—has an adult smoking rate of just 8.9 percent. Youth smoking rates in our region are equally troubling.   

Beyond the negative effects smoking has on a person’s quality of life, smoking causes real economic harm by overburdening our healthcare system and driving up costs for employers. A study from 2013 estimated that a smoking employee costs an employer $6,000 more per year than a non-smoking employee in direct medical care, lost productivity, and absenteeism. So, for a small business with five smokers on staff, that’s $30,000 per year. For a large business with 100 smokers, that’s $600,000 per year. The total negative economic impact of smoking on the economy as a whole is estimated to be more than $300 billion per year.

GLI is strongly supportive of legislation focused on curtailing smoking rates as a way of building a healthier regional workforce. In the 2018 session, we advocated for increases to Kentucky’s cigarette tax and for allowing local governments to increase the minimum age to buy tobacco products. We will be continuing these efforts in 2019 and are already working on several pieces of legislation on both sides of the river.


  • Senate Bill 33 (J. Schickel) would remove special employment protections for smokers.
  • House Bill 11 (K. Moser) and Senate Bill 27 (R. Alvarado) would prohibit the use of tobacco products on public school properties.


  • Senate Bill 425 (R. Head) would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21.
  • House Bill 1551 (M. Aylesworth) would raise the cigarette tax by $1.00 and also increase the minimum tobacco age.

Throughout 2019, GLI will be working to further measures like these and others that can help to improve quality of life and grow a healthier regional workforce. Learn more about GLI’s health care and workforce priorities by reading our 2019 State Legislative Agenda.