Fate up in air for proposed Indiana smoking ban

April 5, 2011

The fate of a proposed statewide smoking ban in the state Legislature is uncertain, with anti-smoking advocates keeping up their push for restrictions that are tougher than some lawmakers think can win approval.

A couple hundred American Cancer Society members visited the Statehouse on Tuesday, a day ahead of an expected vote by the Senate Public Policy Committee on whether to endorse the smoking ban bill that includes exemptions for casinos, bars, fraternal clubs, smoke shops and nursing homes.

Allowing so many exemptions makes the bill one that the cancer society won't support, said Amanda Estridge, the group's state government relations manager.

"As the bill currently stands, it's not good enough," she said. "It's poised to be one of the weakest laws in the nation, and we think Indiana is better than that."

Committee Chairman Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, said he doesn't plan to allow any amendments changing the exemptions because he believes they are needed to secure enough votes for the ban to clear the Senate and the House.

Alting said he was frustrated with the ban advocates because they are pushing for broader limits than what has won House approval in five ban bills in recent years. This is the first time a Senate committee has considered a proposed smoking ban.

The bill's ban on smoking in other workplaces and restaurants would cover the exposure of most people to secondhand smoke, he said.

"Here you could get a bill that at least covers 80 percent of what you want," Alting said of the ban advocates. "Then you could come back the next year and try some more."

Alting said he wasn't sure how he would vote on the bill and that the lobbying by the ban advocates could kill the measure.

Rep. Eric Turner, who sponsored the ban bill in the House, said he supported a comprehensive ban without exemptions, but didn't think it would win approval. Turner, R-Cicero, said he wanted to see a statewide ban become law this year and that he would work in the future to make it tougher.

The exemptions for casinos and horse racing tracks was approved by the House after the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said banning smoking there could cost the state about $190 million a year. The House later voted to exempt bars that only admit adults over age 21 after some lawmakers argued that it was unfair to exempt casinos and tracks without exempting bars, because bars located near casinos could lose business if smokers decided to hang out at casinos instead of at bars.

Exemptions for nursing homes and fraternal clubs were also added to appease those who said veterans and those living in nursing homes should have the right to smoke in certain areas.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said he'd sign a statewide smoking ban into law if legislators approve it.


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