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NOTIONS: As fumes meet fare, my restaurant boycott begins

March 6, 2006

Recently, I testified before the Greenwood Common Council. I spoke in favor of that community's proposed ban on workplace smoking. The stuff killed my wife, Pam, a 49-year-old nonsmoker, so I encourage practitioners of good government to spare others the same fate.

When all the witnesses had filled the allotted 30 minutes, Greenwood's council members spoke up-most in favor.

But an opponent, Councilman Ron Deer, said smokers ought to have choices. No, he said, people should not be able to light up in public places, like council meetings and government buildings. But when it comes to private enterprise, Deer said people ought to have a choice whether to smoke, and the owners of such workplaces-including restaurants and bars-ought to have a choice whether to accommodate smokers.

Two weeks later, with Deer the lone dissenting vote, Greenwood passed an ordinance similar to those taking effect in Indianapolis, Carmel and Greenfield this week.

Because council members in each of these cities have caved in to the liquor/tobacco lobby and allowed exemptions for bars, private clubs and restaurants that employ and serve only adults, restaurant owners have faced the kind of choice Councilman Deer likes:

Choice A: Ban smoking, appeal to 80 percent of the population (nonsmokers), and protect the lives and health of customers and employees.

Choice B: Permit smoking, appeal to 20 percent of the population (smokers), prohibit anyone under 18 from entering the place, and subject employees and customers to a daily dose of toxic haze proven to cause cancer, heart disease and a slew of other ailments.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? (As in, you'd have to be brainless to make Choice B.)

But at press time, a number of Marion County restaurateurs had done just that-choosing to subject their patrons and employees to carcinogens and other toxins, while walking away from prom dates, bar and bat mitzvahs, wedding rehearsal dinners, Mother's Day and Father's Day parties, pre-show dinners before "Yuletide Celebration" or "A Christmas Carol," and all the other revenue to be had from family dining.

As a result of these restaurateurs' choices, I now have choices, too. And I choose to boycott-with my own money, my company's money and every dollar of every client, friend, family member, neighbor and reader I can influence-any establishment that chooses death and disease over life and health.

Based on the list of restaurant owners who've so far requested permission from the Marion County Health Department to allow smoking, I'm beginning my boycott with those who've gotten the most money from me in the past.

For example, a few weeks ago, I sat at Agio on Massachusetts Avenue with three friends. We dropped $222.95 that night.

Across the way, we spotted two families we know-a party of eight that included three kids who won't be allowed back, now that Agio has chosen cancer over children.

In addition, I've spent $132.10 of my company's money at Agio so far this year. And that's all there's going to be. Because until and unless Agio clears the air, I won't return.

I also won't return to 14 West. Back in January, some colleagues and I took a big group of clients there for dinner. We spent $620.29, including a $100 tip. It went to a great waiter. I hope he doesn't have to apply all of it to medical care for tobaccotriggered diseases.

I'm concerned for the staff at Café Santa Fe, too. Pam and I went there a lot. (I wonder if that contributed to the cancer that killed her.) Sometimes, we went with my parents, or took the kids. Café Santa Fe has a tiny bar in the corner and lots of restaurant space all around. But apparently, the margarita and Marlboro crowd matters more, because the owners have chosen smoke over families like ours.

The one that kills me (all innuendo intended) is the Elbow Room. Because it's just a few blocks from our home, we've been eating there since 1999. Pam and I walked there often. We took the kids there, too (they like the burgers). I've taken my parents and their friends there before downtown events. And now that Pam's gone, and I don't cook so much, my sons and I have gone there to eat and watch basketball on TV.

But the Elbow Room has elbowed out my family for the sake of cigarettes, so we'll walk to Circle Centre mall, instead.

Used to be, there weren't many nonsmoking choices in Indiana. Now, thanks to new laws in Indianapolis, Carmel, Greenfield, Greenwood and elsewhere, there are many. So if you'd like to join this healthy crusade and vote your pocketbook, too, remember Bruce's boycott motto:

If you don't like the smoke, go to someone else's kitchen.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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