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New push set for broad Indiana smoking limits

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A new push is being made in the Indiana Legislature for a statewide smoking ban a year after the failure of a similar bill that health advocates assailed as too weak.

The bill announced Thursday by Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero would prohibit smoking in most public places and workplaces, including bars. The only exemptions it includes are the gambling floors of casinos and pari-mutuel betting parlors, private clubs and cigar and hookah bars.

Turner said he believes the exemptions hit the balance needed to gain enough votes among legislators, even though he would like to see a complete ban.

"I think it takes care of 98 percent of the problem out there," Turner said. "Sometime in the future we may come back for the other 2 percent, but that's for another day."

The House last year approved a smoking ban bill that included an exemption for bars. 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.

Senate public policy committee Chairman Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, said Thursday he still believes a smoking ban will not get through the Legislature without an exemption for bars.

"That will better the opportunity to have some sort of smoking ban in the state," he said.

The Indiana House has approved statewide smoking limits five times in recent years, but the Senate has never voted on those bills.

Longtime smoking ban sponsor Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he expected bar owners and the state's casinos to push for wider exemptions from the ban.

Such expanded exemptions could lead anti-smoking advocates to sour on the bill because it could take years to close such loopholes, said Tim Harms, a spokesman for the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air.

Turner said he believes greater public support and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' endorsement will help the broader ban's chances this year.

The Indianapolis City-County Council is considering a similar ban that includes bars which could take effect before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Turner said he would like to see the statewide ban enacted before then, but that timing is not his priority.

"If that helps us pass it, then it'll be a great Super Bowl regardless of the outcome," he said.

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