Legislature and State Government and Smoking Ban and Legislation and Public Safety and Government & Economic Development and Government

Fight looming over banning smoking in Indiana bars

January 26, 2012

Haggling over whether to allow exemptions for bars and more smoking areas at casinos as part of a statewide smoking ban in Indiana has pushed back debate among House members, the bill's sponsor said Thursday.

Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, said he's trying to work with fellow legislators, adding that debate on possible amendments will begin Friday or Monday.

"We're trying to reach a conclusion on minimizing the number of exemptions and still passing the bill," Turner said.

The current bill would prohibit smoking in nearly all public places and workplaces, including bars. It would continue to allow smoking on casino gambling floors and at fraternal and veterans clubs, cigar and hookah bars and retail tobacco shops.

Some House members plan to seek additional exemptions for bars and all buildings on casino property.

Those exemptions were included in a smoking ban bill approved by the House last year. Health advocates argued that it would have given the state one of the weakest bans in the country, and the bill was defeated in a Senate committee after its chairman argued the bar exemption was needed to win Senate passage.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, is pushing for the removal of smoking limits on casino buildings and says he thinks that exemption is needed to protect the state's 13 casinos from competition in neighboring states — and the some $650 million a year in tax revenue the state receives from them.

"I don't think there's any question that patrons expect to be able to smoke when they come to a casino and that would extend not only to the gaming area, but to the restaurants and the common areas," Eberhart said.

The House has approved statewide smoking limits five times in recent years, but the Senate has never voted on those bills. Turner said he believes greater public support and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' endorsement will help the broader ban's chances this year.

But Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, said while he frequents places that don't allow smoking, he still thinks bar owners should have the right to set smoking policies.

"I just don't like government regulation and feel like businesses should have the opportunity to decide whether they should be smoke free," he said.

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