EDITORIAL: Time for mayor to clear the air, back smoking ban

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Another year, another parade of editorials, opinion pieces and studies that call for Indiana to join its neighbors in banning smoking in all workplaces. We’re confident Hoosier lawmakers will do the right thing and take a stand against this public health scourge—eventually.

In the meantime, Mayor Greg Ballard should come out of hiding on the smoking issue and make sure Indianapolis joins the 21st century where public smoking policy is concerned.

At the state level, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, has introduced for the fifth time a bill that would ban smoking in all public places. Anecdotal evidence suggests legislators will be more receptive to a comprehensive ban this year and finally allow Indiana to join 29 states that have already taken a stand against the wasted lives and lost productivity caused by secondhand smoke.

But who knows what 150 legislators will do? The annual watering down of the bill has already begun with an exemption for casinos.

We’re more concerned with what our mayor and 29 members of the City-County Council will do to make sure Indianapolis doesn’t fall further behind its big-city peers—not to mention the numerous small towns in Indiana that have already disposed of the issue. Of the 30 largest cities in the country, Indianapolis is one of only six that still harbor smoke-filled bars.

That’s largely the fault of Ballard, who has been unwilling to lead on this issue in spite of public support for a ban and the economic consequences of not having one.

The Indiana Convention Center expansion that opened Jan. 20 should make the city competitive with the biggest convention cities in the country. But those who have the tough task of filling all that new space start at a disadvantage—especially when you consider one of their target markets: pharmaceutical, medical, life sciences and sports organizations.

There’s an obvious disconnect between health-conscious conventioneers and a city where most watering holes are harmful to heart and lungs and send customers away with an unmistakable stench.

Departing Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association CEO Don Welsh made it clear last year that the city’s lax smoking policy makes the ICVA’s job tougher. Ballard and the council can do Welsh’s successor and the city’s convention bookers a favor by removing that obstacle.

Even many bar owners would welcome a strengthening of the city’s loophole-ridden 2006 ordinance. They want to go smoke-free but are afraid to without a law compelling their competitors to do the same.

Leaving that up to the state is a game of chance. Ballard should eliminate the uncertainty—and a potential obstacle to his re-election bid—and finally stand up for the health and welfare of his constituents and the Indianapolis economy.•


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