Letters and Opinion

State should go smoke-free

March 12, 2011

Less than a month ago, it seemed almost certain that Indiana would join the ranks of two dozen other states and the District of Columbia—including our neighbors Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin—in enacting a statewide, comprehensive smoke-free-air law.

It now appears that some lawmakers have been unwittingly influenced by opponents of smoke-free air and have succeeded in weakening House Bill 1018 to exempt bars, nursing homes, private clubs and casinos from protecting their employees from the devastating effects of secondhand smoke.

While the health effects of secondhand smoke are well-documented and can no longer be contested, opponents of smoke-free air are clinging to the waning hope that lawmakers will be convinced smoke-free air is bad for business. However, they couldn’t be more mistaken.

Numerous studies conducted by some of the nation’s top academic institutions and reports from state agencies have consistently shown that smoke-free-air laws do not harm business. One year after the state of Washington went smoke-free, bar and tavern revenue was up 20 percent. Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and Florida, just to name a few, saw no significant impact in revenue, and employment in the hospitality industry was not affected.

Here in Indiana, communities that have adopted smoke-free-air ordinances have seen almost immediate benefits to the clear air. According to the Indiana Center for Health Policy, one month after Fort Wayne expanded its smoke-free ordinance to include bars and private clubs, bar and restaurant receipts increased 39 percent. Since Plainfield went smoke-free in 2006, the amount of money collected from food and beverage taxes continues to increase.  

Perhaps the most convincing bit of evidence that shows smoke-free laws do not harm business can be found in a Michigan Department of Treasury report released in December. In the months following enactment of Michigan’s smoke-free-air law, a comparison of year-over-year sales tax receipts showed that there was actually an overall increase of 0.11 percent in total sales tax collections from retail eating and drinking establishments.

This is particularly interesting when one takes into account that Michigan’s economy has been arguably the most affected by the recession, and Michigan was the only state to lose population, according to the 2010 census.

The next few weeks will be critical to the fate of the smoke-free-air legislation. Advocates of smoke-free air include some of the state’s most influential health care and business organizations. With more than $390 million spent each year on secondhand-smoke-related health care costs in Indiana, the Hoosier state simply can’t afford not to go smoke-free.

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Susan M. Rawl
Vice president, board of directors
American Cancer Society
Great Lakes Division Inc.

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