EDITORIAL: OK smoking ban before year end

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A plea to City-County Council Democrats: Keep your eye on the prize and vote this month for smoke-free workplaces.

Council Democrats, who will become the majority party Jan. 1, are understandably frustrated with outgoing Council President Ryan Vaughn’s ordinance that would strengthen the city’s smoke-free-workplaces law.

It goes a long way toward clearing local eating and drinking establishments of tobacco smoke, but it’s not the stronger ordinance Democrats had counted on supporting after the first of the year, and Vaughn’s plan was sprung on Democrats with little warning—or input.

So, Democrats are understandably unhappy, but they should put their anger aside and support the ordinance.

It’s not perfect—laws passed by deliberative bodies rarely are—and it steals some of the Democrats’ thunder. But taking credit isn’t what motivates the supporters of smoke-free air. They’re driven by a desire for healthier workplaces, a goal Vaughn’s ordinance goes most of the way toward achieving.

It would eliminate, in short order, smoking in bars, bowling alleys, nursing homes and other establishments where smoking is still allowed by the city’s weak 2005 smoking ordinance. Smoking would still be permitted in tobacco stores and in fraternal clubs where members vote to allow it. Cigar and hookah bars, of which there are approximately 20, would get an exemption for their namesake products, but cigarette smoking would not be allowed.

Smoke-Free Indy, a broad coalition of organizations that has been pushing for a stronger smoking ordinance, estimates the measure on the table would reduce the number of smoking establishments in the county from 370 to about 60.

The wording in the ordinance would make it all but impossible for that number to grow, a key to the measure’s winning the support of Smoke-Free Indy.

The group had been working with Democrat Angela Mansfield and Republican Ben Hunter on an ordinance to be introduced in January. Lindsay Grace, a spokeswoman for the group, said its members were caught off guard by Vaughn’s ordinance, but they’ve gotten behind it for the greater good.

Grace said the measure, which could come up for a vote Dec. 19 and become enforceable Jan. 22, is in Smoke-Free Indy’s view, “not perfect but still meaningful.”

The timing is no small matter. If the council can muster the votes to get the ordinance passed and Mayor Ballard signs it, the city can avoid making a bad impression on the thousands of visitors who descend on the city for Super Bowl XLVI in late January. Most tourist destinations in the United States, and many in Europe, long ago cleared the air in their eating and drinking establishments.

There’s still time for Indianapolis to follow suit. Council Republicans, with their slim, 15-member majority, could pass Vaughn’s ordinance on their own. But no one expects there to be enough Republican votes for that to happen. It’s up to Democrats to turn the other cheek and do what’s right for the residents of our city.•


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