Local Government and Smoking Ban and Opinion and Smokefree workplaces and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Take the lead on smoking ban, Mayor Ballard

October 31, 2009

Maddening? Disappointing? Choose your adjective. The failure of the latest proposal to prohibit smoking in almost all Indianapolis workplaces was clearly a setback for public health and a city that markets itself as a medical and life sciences hub.

But the years-long effort to clear the air isn’t over, just delayed. Smoking-ban advocates must dust themselves off and get back to work.

We appreciate the efforts of Republican City-County councilors Benjamin Hunter and Barbara Malone and Democrats Angela Mansfield, Jose Evans and Brian Mahern, the five sponsors of the proposal that was tabled Oct. 26 after it failed to receive the 15 votes necessary to pass or defeat it.

The sponsors are among 12 solid supporters of the measure, which would have extended the city’s smoking ban to include bars, bowling alleys and private clubs.

It’s almost inconceivable that three of the remaining 17 City-County councilors can’t be swayed to support a measure with so much to recommend it. The dangers of secondhand smoke are well-documented by the scientific community, and in the hundreds of cities and the majority of states that have already adopted the bans, there’s no evidence to suggest businesses are harmed.

But a handful of councilors aren’t the only ones standing in the way. Mayor Greg Ballard must come around as well. For the mayor to be seen as obstructionist on this issue puts him in an awkward spot.

His position is inconsistent with the city’s SustainIndy initiative, which touts the importance the city places on clean air and, to quote its Web site, “working with private partners to ensure that our community remains vibrant and healthy.”

Branding the city as environmentally progressive is also important to broader economic development efforts, including the push to enhance the city’s life sciences economy. The city’s smoky indoor spaces diminish those efforts and caused the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce to throw its support behind the smoking ban.

The longer the city waits to act, the more conspicuous its weak law becomes. Workers in more than half the country’s 20 largest cities are already protected, and among large cities in neighboring states, only Detroit’s workplaces remain smoky.

Closer to home, several smaller units of government have beaten Indianapolis to the punch, including the towns of Franklin, Plainfield and Zionsville.

It’s too late for the city to lead on this issue, but it can avoid falling further behind. If, as has been reported, Ballard isn’t behind the effort because of his reluctance to ban smoking in private clubs, such as those geared toward military veterans, he should forge a compromise the City-County Council can pass and he can sign.

Soon, the mayor and the holdout City-County councilors should join their peers and the city’s business community, its medical community and the majority of its residents in supporting a stronger ban.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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