EDITORIAL: Statewide smoking ban is overdue

November 27, 2010

The scientific evidence has been there for years. The financial argument is easy to make. Yet the idea of protecting the public from the potentially deadly effects of secondhand smoke hasn’t caught fire in the halls of power—at least that’s been the case in Indiana.

While 27 other states and cities large and small across the country have stepped up to protect the public’s health by outlawing smoking just about everywhere except private homes and the great outdoors, Indiana and its largest city have failed to act.

The state hasn’t done anything. In Indianapolis, the partial smoking ban that went into effect in 2006 was a good start, but the city’s bars and some of its restaurants are still thick with smoke. Mayor Greg Ballard’s reluctance to get behind a stronger ordinance is a black eye for a city trying to become a magnet for life sciences workers and conventions.

Finally, however, there’s a glimmer of hope. As IBJ reported this month, at least some among the vocal minority who’ve thwarted government action up until now are beginning to see the handwriting on the wall.

As state Rep. Charlie Brown prepares to introduce for the fifth time a bill that would ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces, John Livengood, one of the chief lobbyists working against such a law, told IBJ the ban is inevitable and that opposition to it is weakening.

In Indianapolis, evidence is mounting—at least anecdotally—that the very business owners Livengood and his supporters have tried to protect are ready for a change. It’s not hard to find a bar owner who wants to go smoke-free and would happily comply if only the watering hole down the street had to do the same. Some have tried to straddle the line by instituting non-smoking hours.

What is needed is a comprehensive law that levels the playing field and allows everyone to compete for customers with the same set of rules—in the best interest of public health.

We hope 2011 is the year the Indiana General Assembly passes this common-sense measure. If for some reason it doesn’t, Indianapolis must take action. It’s too late to lead the way in a state where dozens of towns and cities have already made the right move, but in this case being a follower is preferable to isolating the city as one of only a handful where working in or entering a bar is hazardous to your health.

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