'Smoke free' needs to be the law in all Hoosier public places

December 15, 2008
Ammonia, benzene, arsenic, lead, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde — want to kill yourself? No need to pick your poison, you can have it all — free — at the Slippery Noodle Inn.

Toxic chemicals are part of the ambience at the "Noodle," a downtown watering hole, and at other bars, bowling alleys and private clubs that continue to expose their customers and work force to secondhand smoke.

Indianapolis enacted an ordinance in May 2005 (effective March 1, 2006) restricting smoking in public places. The action was supported by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and applauded by city leaders, but lethal compromises were made that opened loopholes for the Noodle and its peers.

The City-County Council was loath to cram an ordinance down the throat of bars and restaurants that claimed the restriction would devastate their businesses. Smoke Free Indy knew better. It's a coalition of state and local public health organizations, community-based organizations and others founded in 2002 and dedicated to reducing secondhand smoke and tobacco usage through education, prevention and advocacy.

Smoke Free Indy cited a 2003 report offering a comprehensive view of available studies on the economic impact of smoke-free workplace laws that concluded bars and restaurants had nothing to worry about. The City-County Council was not convinced.

Today, Indiana can look at its own data. A 2007 study commissioned by Smoke Free Indy concluded that the 2005 ordinance has not had a negative impact on sales or employment. Studies of Marion County taxable food and beverage sales show overall food and drink sales were unchanged. Further study showed that the number of food and hospitality employees had not declined.

On the other hand, it is evident that smoke-free workplaces enjoy the benefits of cleaner air and a reduction in the number of fire accidents and damage to furniture by cigarette burns and cigarette odors.

Indianapolis has fallen behind. Thirteen states and hundreds of cities and counties across the nation have 100-percent smoke-free workplace laws. In fact, more than half the people in our country now live under a comprehensive smoke-free law.

There is talk in the Legislature about Indiana's joining Ohio and others as a smoke-free state. If the state of Indiana is going to pass a comprehensive law, it surely must be led by its capital, the city of Indianapolis. It is vital to the health of Indiana citizens that Indianapolis join other cities in Indiana that have comprehensive ordinances.

We must also take steps to reduce the number of smokers by increasing the tobacco tax, implementing prevention and cessation programs, and outlawing cigarette giveaways and advertising to children.

Bill Gates and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced recently they would together spend $500 million to help people around the world quit smoking or avoid taking up the habit. They will concentrate their activities in poor countries. The money will be spent on a multi-prong campaign. It will urge governments to sharply raise tobacco taxes, prohibit smoking in public places, outlaw cigarette giveaways and advertising to children, start anti-smoking advertising campaigns, and offer people nicotine patches or other help quitting. Bloomberg is replicating a program that was successful in New York and that is exactly what we should do in Indiana

On Dec. 3, the City-County Council Community Affairs Committee heard a presentation from Smoke Free Indy on the benefits of having a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law in Indianapolis. Let's hope our leaders have some guts on this issue. If we're going to be a first-class city, we have to be a first-class city in every way and that includes one that protects all our workers, including those who work in bars and restaurants.

On the day you can't light up at the Slippery Noodle Inn, either pursuant to a decision by an enlightened management or in accordance with a comprehensive ordinance, I'll buy lunch.


Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.
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