EDITORIAL: Indianapolis doesn't need 'ashtray' label

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IBJ Editorial

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.•


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


  • letter to editor on "ashtray" label
    I finally have reached my breaking point and felt compelled to write a letter in response to the March 14, 2011 editorial in the Indianapolis Business Journal. I find it increasingly disturbing that a publication which purports to call itself a â??businessâ?? journal continues to preach anti-business rhetoric. To devote what seems to be every other weekly editorial to chastise state legislators for their failure to enact a state-wide smoking ban, is a smack to the face of American capitalism.

    The last time I checked cigarettes are a legal product and smoking them in the sanctity of your own home or in a myriad of other places indoors and out is still not a prosecutable offense. So, my premise is that business owners should be allowed to determine whether their bar, restaurant, casino, or private club is smoking or not. Their establishments are after all private property.

    In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that while I am not a cigarette smoker, I am an occasional cigar smoker. I absolutely do not want to eat my filet mignon next to a table of smokers, so I choose to eat at Eddie Merlotâ??s which has banned smoking. But if I want to have a beer and a cigar while I chat with friends, I now have several choices in which to do so. Enacting a comprehensive ban on liberty as you call for reminds me of Orwellâ??s 1984.

    The system we have now works, period. Economic factors determine which establishments are smoking and which are smoke free. Many restaurants have gone smokeless such as Scottyâ??s Brewhouse. Scott Wise will tell you that he is smoke free because he makes more money being smoke free. On the other hand, to not allow smoking in an establishment such as the Indy Cigar Bar or Nikki Blaineâ??s in which every patron and worker is fully cognizant of the benefits and risks of being in such an establishment, is akin to discrimination. After all, we all eat and drink. Next thing you know, weâ??ll be telling The Cheesecake Factory that they canâ??t sell cheesecake due to the high fat content. Mark my words IBJ, this current movement is a slippery slope of diminishing liberty and business opportunity.
  • Trick #3 ...
    LOL! I no sooner get through describing two of the standard antismoking debate tricks than another one pops up! JustWright wrote, "I see the comments from the pro-smoking special interests groups are at work again."

    Special interest groups JW? You mean like smokers who've been thrown out onto the street and are working to fight these bans? Of course what JW is trying to imply is that there's some sort of deep dark cabal, probably funded by dirty tobacco money laundered on the dark side of the moon that produces any opinions or information against smoking bans.

    Sorry JW, that's an old trick and one that I took head on when I wrote brains. Read the first two sentences of the "Author's Preface" at http://www.Antibrains.com and then look around to see if anyone's risen to the challenge over the last five years.

    The bottom line is that there are lots of good solid reasons for opposing these bans, and a lot of good solid questions about the pseudo-science trumped up to support them. Read the "Lies" link I posted a few posts below this and offer any substantive criticisms of it if you have any.

    I don't think you will.

    - MJM
  • Thanks for the support!
    Thank you once again IBJ editors for taking a public stand in support of a comprehensive policy. A policy that protects all workers from secondhand smoke is needed now, not 5 or 10 years from now. Our public officials need to quit putting our health and economic development opportunities on the line.
  • Oh the irony
    The irony of a business publication campaigning for the abolishment of business property rights is sad to see.

    The article states: "Protecting the health of workers is simply more important than preserving the ability to light up with a lager." So the employees knew before they applied for the jobs that the bar allowed smoking and applied anyway. They accepted the job knowing the bar allowed smoking. They continue to work at this job knowing the bar allows smoking. And yet somehow it's the government's job to protect people who decided for themselves to apply for, accept, and work at a job with known risks involved.

    It's clear the IBJ feels individuals are much too stupid to decide for themselves. We need nanny government to step in and tell people what they should and should not be doing. If only the government could just run these bars and we could completely get rid of any notion of "private" property.
  • not so simple
    Sure, bars will survive -- except cigar bars, which will be outlawed -- and casinos will endure, but only after taking a sizable hit, based on other states.
  • Right On!
    This is right on! I see the comments from the pro-smoking special interests groups are at work again. A comprehensive spoking policy is long overdue. Smoking is a public health hazard, and the government's primary purpose is to protect its people. That's the issue! It's not about making Indiana a "nanny-state" it is about making us a healthier state. We NEED to protect ALL workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Kudos to the IBJ and the supporters of a comprehensive policy that protects all workers.

    No one is trying to ban smoking. It's a legal activity, just like alcohol. However, there are laws associated with drinking. One cannot consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car (because of the dangers). One should not be allowed to smoke inside enclosed public areas (because of the dangers). There is NO ban on smoking, however, there MUST be laws to PROTECT the public.
  • The Ashtray Trick et al
    IBJ, you've fallen for one of the antismoking lobby's favorite tricks: "The Ashtray of the XXXX" label. They trot that out whenever a city/state has succeeded in fighting them off while their neighbors fell in line. The lobbyists will then say "Oh, you are now KNOWN as "The Ashtray etc..."

    Of course the only ones who know them that way are the extremists pushing the bans and trying to frighten the locals by saying "Gee, everyone's talking about you! You better straighten out boy or no one's gonna like ya!"

    btw, those "27 states with comprehensive bans" is another cute propaganda trick called "The Bandwagon" : "Don't be left behind! Everyone ELSE is jumping off the bridge! YOU should TOO!!!" Does that "27" number include California which allows bars with under six employees to have Free Choice? Or Florida where ALL stand-alone bars have Free Choice? Or Pennsylvania where over 2,000 bar/restaurants have exemptions? Or Ohio where 40 local health departments have outright refused to enforce their unpopular ban?

    Things aren't always what the antismoking lobby tries to make them appear. Go to:


    and read "The Lies Behind The Smoking Bans." It's short and one-sided, but its facts are accurate and their presentation is honest. Feel free to criticize it if you want: I'm open about who I am, what my "competing interest" might be, and I stand firmly behind what I write.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"
  • Ashtray of the midwest?
    Give me a break! This article is full of nothing more than anti-smoking talking points! Ohio has now lost 483 private establishments due to it's smoking ban. Stand up and respect private property rights.

    An article should be written regarding Indy stating pro-private property state who respects it's business owners. Indy, don't fall for this nonsense. Ohio is now coming to your state for a breath of fresh nonoppressive air!
  • Meddling Busybodies
    Nobody needs meddling busybodies that create problems where none exist in places that they never go to.

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  1. You are correct that Obamacare requires health insurance policies to include richer benefits and protects patients who get sick. That's what I was getting at when I wrote above, "That’s because Obamacare required insurers to take all customers, regardless of their health status, and also established a floor on how skimpy the benefits paid for by health plans could be." I think it's vital to know exactly how much the essential health benefits are costing over previous policies. Unless we know the cost of the law, we can't do a cost-benefit analysis. Taxes were raised in order to offset a 31% rise in health insurance premiums, an increase that paid for richer benefits. Are those richer benefits worth that much or not? That's the question we need to answer. This study at least gets us started on doing so.

  2. *5 employees per floor. Either way its ridiculous.

  3. Jim, thanks for always ready my stuff and providing thoughtful comments. I am sure that someone more familiar with research design and methods could take issue with Kowalski's study. I thought it was of considerable value, however, because so far we have been crediting Obamacare for all the gains in coverage and all price increases, neither of which is entirely fair. This is at least a rigorous attempt to sort things out. Maybe a quixotic attempt, but it's one of the first ones I've seen try to do it in a sophisticated way.

  4. In addition to rewriting history, the paper (or at least your summary of it) ignores that Obamacare policies now must provide "essential health benefits". Maybe Mr Wall has always been insured in a group plan but even group plans had holes you could drive a truck through, like the Colts defensive line last night. Individual plans were even worse. So, when you come up with a study that factors that in, let me know, otherwise the numbers are garbage.

  5. You guys are absolutely right: Cummins should build a massive 80-story high rise, and give each employee 5 floors. Or, I suppose they could always rent out the top floors if they wanted, since downtown office space is bursting at the seams (http://www.ibj.com/article?articleId=49481).