Advocates renew push for statewide smoking ban

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Advocates and lawmakers once again have started a campaign to ban smoking from all public places in Indiana, and this year, they think they will finally be successful

State Reps. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) and Eric Turner (R-Cicero) joined members of the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air on Wednesday to announce legislation for a comprehensive ban they plan to introduce next year. They were joined by Indiana Sen. Sue Errington (D-Muncie), who plans to push for the law in the Senate, where it has failed to get a hearing in the past.

Their message was followed by a hearing of the Indiana Health Finance Commission, which took testimony on the issue.

Indiana is among 11 states without a statewide law prohibiting smoking in public establishments. About 1-in-4 adult Hoosiers smoke, higher than the national average of about 1-in-5.

Some Indiana cities, such as Fort Wayne, have bans in all workplaces. Others, such as Indianapolis, ban smoking in most workplaces, but make some exceptions for bars, bowling alleys and private clubs.

A proposal for a stronger ban was tabled by the Indianapolis City-County Council last year.

It will be Brown’s fourth attempt to implement a full workplace ban, which would include restaurants and bars, and he said he’s confident that it can pass this year.

“I think—slowly but surely—my colleagues are realizing it’s a health issue and it’s costly, and it’s not an intrusion on businesses,” said Brown, who cited 97 studies that show no negative economic impact.

But Brown also expects to face opposition from bar and casino lobbyists who he said have fought the measures in the past.

Brad Klopfenstein, spokesman for Save Indianapolis Bars, an Indianapolis-based group that fought the most recently proposed local ban, said the opposition so far hasn’t been organized, but he hopes it can continue countering with their message.

“In a free society, employees have to take some responsibility for working in establishments that might harm their health or whose policies they don’t agree with,” Klopfenstein said. “Smokers should be able to get together in their own establishments and enjoy each other’s company.”

Advocates say they’re better equipped to counter those arguments this year.

They’re armed with a growing body of research, such as a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that highlights nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke and calls for laws that ban smoking in all public places.

They’re also hoping for more support from key lawmakers. Brown said he’s had several conversations with Senate President Protempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne), who supported studying the issue further to educate his caucus.

And there’s a growing public call, smoking-ban supporters say, for lawmakers to support their cause. A local poll released this summer by the group Smoke Free Indy and the national Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids showed 70 percent of Indianapolis residents support making all workplaces smoke-free.

“We know that we have more constituents across the state who are calling legislators and asking them to create smoke-free air,” said Amanda Estridge, Indiana state government relations manager for the American Cancer Society, one of the groups involved with the campaign.

But Klopfenstein says there are plenty of others who are just as content to keep things the way they are.

“Not all people like country music,” he said. “There’s not a mandate that all bars have to be rock and roll bars.”


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