News and Tribune

Floyd County

March 19, 2012

Backers of smoking ban bill vow to target bars next year

Opponents fear complete smoking ban would hurt bars, casinos

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called the exemption-filled smoking ban bill he signed into law Monday an example of the legislative process at its “finest,” but authors of the bill are vowing to snuff out the loopholes.

Daniels signed the first statewide smoking ban bill surrounded by legislators who forged compromises that carved out bars, casinos and private clubs from a law that bars smoking in most public places. The signed bill fell far short of what its backers wanted: A comprehensive smoking ban that would cover indoor workplaces and catch Indiana up with much of the nation’s smoke-free laws.  

“I think the public supports that,” said Rep. Eric Turner,  a conservative Republican lawmaker who co-authored the bill and supports a comprehensive ban. “They just haven’t communicated that to their legislators.”

Thirty-nine other states have laws that ban smoking in all or most public places.

Rep. Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat who carried the bill for five years before it finally passed, said the exemptions in the current bill are no good. But he also said they were needed to get the legislation to the governor’s desk.

“We had to crawl before we could walk,” Brown told reporters who attended Monday’s bill signing. “Hopefully, we’ll get into a sprint next year.”

Brown and Turner both want to see bars and casinos covered by the smoking ban, but acknowledge they’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Opponents of a comprehensive ban argued the economic impact on bars and casinos would be monumental; they fear smokers would stop patronizing those businesses.

Turner doesn’t think that’s so. He was in New Mexico last weekend where a smoking ban that includes bars has been in place since 2007. He said the bars were filled with basketball fans watching the NCAA men’s tournament.  

“The bars were crowded. If somebody wanted to smoke, they just went outside,” Turner said.  “That’s what people are used to doing now.”

Daniels acknowledged the exemption-laden bill was a disappointment to health advocates and legislators who argued the bill was needed to protect Hoosiers from secondhand smoke in the workplace.

The House version of the bill, which initially covered bars with the smoking ban, narrowly passed the Senate late in the legislative session. It did so only after the list of workplace exemptions were expanded to include bars.  

Before signing the bill Monday, Daniels said the final bill that emerged from the Indiana General Assembly was an example of how the legislative process should work: Coming up with a compromise on a politically charged issue.

“I was never as absolutist on this issue as others,” Daniels said.

The smoking ban takes  effect July 1 and covers most workplaces. In addition to exempting bars and casinos, the new law also exempts retail tobacco shops, hookah bars and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.

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