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EDITORIAL: Indianapolis doesn't need 'ashtray' label

March 12, 2011

The Circle City has finally outgrown its sleepy Naptown reputation, but Indianapolis is at risk of developing another rep that won’t exactly look good on postcards: Ashtray of the Midwest.

As Scott Olson reported in a March 9 story on IBJ.com, some Michigan State University alumni were upset —including at least two people employed by the American Cancer Society—that their alma mater was paired with an Indianapolis bar that allows smoking during the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament.

Schools traditionally have been matched with downtown establishments so visitors have a home base of sorts where like-minded fans can gather while they’re in town. This year, three of the venues allow smoking—despite comprehensive smoking bans in the states where their university “partners” are located.

In fact, only two of the eight states with Big Ten schools do not prohibit smoking in all public places: Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Indianapolis has a partial ban on smoking in public places, but it is riddled with exceptions—including bars. An effort to strengthen the law failed, though Democrats on the City-County Council hope to try again.

State legislators, meanwhile, are weighing a similarly weak measure that passed the Indiana House in January after bars, taverns, casinos and private clubs were carved out. It has been assigned to a Senate committee.

Nationwide, 27 states have comprehensive smoking bans in place, and for good reason. Protecting the health of workers is simply more important than preserving the ability to light up with a lager.

Indiana should be among the states that realize that—no ifs, ands or but(t)s about it—and Indianapolis needs to be leading the charge, not fighting it.

More non-Hoosiers are starting to see Indianapolis in a new light: as a Super Bowl city with cultural offerings to balance out the decades-long sports focus and enough potential to attract public and private investment in the future.

Boosters want to keep building on the city’s progress, educating visitors and residents alike about all that Indiana has to offer. But we’re running the risk of losing our shine in a cloud of smoke.

This is not a new topic for us. We have used this space to advocate—if not plead—for a comprehensive smoking ban for years. The time has come for state and local lawmakers alike to stop ignoring the health risks associated with secondhand smoke in an effort to keep some businesses happy.

Those downtown “headquarters” for Big Ten fans? Eight of them don’t allow smoking. And still the beer flows and patrons pour in to celebrate or mourn their teams’ fate.

Despite claims to the contrary, bars will survive. Casinos will endure. Fraternal organizations may even stumble on a way to attract younger, health-conscious members. And if we’re lucky, a few more of us will live long enough to see Indianapolis live up to its potential.•

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

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