By ERIC WEDDLE • firstname.lastname@example.org • January 21, 2010
Lafayette-area smokers, bar owners and anti-tobacco advocates have heard it before.
Proposed statewide smoking restrictions, advanced Wednesday by an Indiana House committee, have become a familiar story, they say.
But a smoking ban bill’s author, state Rep. Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat, said this third attempt to stop smoking in many public places has more bite than before. And Brown said the time has come for statewide smoking restrictions.
If passed in its current form, the statewide measure would push aside smoking ordinances in place in Lafayette and West Lafayette. Stricter in scope, the bill would ban cigarette, pipe, cigar and other tobacco puffing just about everywhere, including bars, restaurants, private clubs, hotel rooms and tobacco stores.
No one at Lafayette’s Ben Hur Tavern Wednesday afternoon was buying into his plan.
“Oh, Brown is trying again?” asked Steve Bolin, of Lafayette, as he finished a cigarette. “I am not saying that smoking has never hurt anyone, but we should be able to smoke if we want.”
The South Fourth Street bar is one of 41 businesses in Lafayette with an exemption allowed under Lafayette’s citywide smoking ban.
As part of Lafayette’s ordinance, passed in 2008, bars, restaurants and other businesses that only employ and serve those 21 years and older are eligible for the exemption.
If Brown has his way, House Bill 1131 will not make exceptions for private clubs or bars. It does allow an exemption for casinos and parimutuel horse racing venues.
“Last year, they hired everyone who was available to lobby against the legislation,” Brown said of the gaming industry. “I am wholeheartedly in favor of a smoking ban in all places. But I have to crawl before I walk.”
He said a ban that included casinos could hurt their business and reduce tax revenue to the state at a time when Indiana’s tax collections are falling far short of previous expectations.
Smoke-free workplace laws have been implemented in eight counties and 31 cities in Indiana, according to the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency. But the rules vary, and many communities have no regulations at all.
Brown said he wants a uniform state code.
The Indiana House passed a similar bill last year. But the measure failed in the Senate and died during late-session negotiations.
Stan Balser, owner of the Ben Hur, said he is opposed to any bill that would wipe away his business’ exemption. He favors Lafayette’s current ordinance and wants it to stick.
“You have a choice of where you can go,” Balser said. “I don’t smoke — haven’t for 15 years. But people should have the choice. If you want to smoke, you can come here. If you don’t want to be around it, you can go to West Lafayette.”
In 2007, West Lafayette banned smoking at all bars and restaurants and many other workplaces. Lighting up is allowed only at tobacco shops and designated hotel rooms.
Tristan Kirby of the Tobacco Free Partnership of Tippecanoe County said a blanket ban would offer the most protection to employees from secondhand smoke. That’s the major push behind Brown’s legislation.
“There is no safe level of secondhand smoking,” Kirby said. “Any level can be detrimental to an employee. The only way to be truly free of secondhand smoke, 100 percent, is to not allow smoking inside a facility.”
Kirby said there are worries about the health of casino workers. But she said the Tobacco Free Partnership would support House Bill 1131.
Lafayette City Council member Steve Meyer, D-at large, called the bill a double-edged sword.
Meyer pushed for the amendment in the Lafayette smoking ban to exempt businesses serving and employing those over 21.
“I think it is good to be uniform across the state, but I think our way is better because it allows business owners to make a decision,” Meyer said. “Those type of business owners should retain that decision.”
Contributing: The Associated Press