The statewide smoking ban approved by the Indiana Senate Feb. 29 was riddled with exemptions, seeming to prove what many people have already concluded: The majority of our lawmakers aren’t concerned with public health; they care far more about the right of business owners to operate without government intrusion.
But, in fact, the bill the Senate approved is the poster child for government meddling.
As lawmakers blithely disregarded the science that says secondhand smoke sickens and kills Hoosiers, they rushed to add exemptions that demonstrated their love of free enterprise. The result is a policy mishmash that removes certain categories of business from the smoking ban while leaving others subject to regulation.
Bars and other establishments that don’t allow minors would have had 18 months to abide by the ban in the House version of the bill, but they were granted a total exemption by the Senate.
In much of the state where no ban exists, bar owners must be licking their chops over the prospect of picking up business from customers who now do their smoking in restaurants that would have to abide by the ban.
Restaurant owners, on the other hand, are surely worried about how a law like the one approved by the Senate would affect them. They would be forced to choose between keeping their smoking customers or remaining open to customers of all ages.
It’s a conundrum faced by Indianapolis establishments since the city enacted its partial ban in 2006. The city’s inability to strengthen its ordinance in recent years continues to put private enterprise in a tough spot.
Lawmakers at both the state and local level are too easily swayed by bar owners who say a smoking ban would kill their business.
Bar and restaurant patrons in all cities larger than Indianapolis and in more than half the states have gotten used to the idea of going outside to light up. And studies of tax revenue generated by bars before and after smoking bans have shown no evidence that smoking bans do permanent harm. In many cases, business rebounds after a short dip and is stronger after a ban is imposed.
The problem arises only when government pits one type of business against the other by adopting broad exemptions. That’s why responsible lawmakers, whether motivated by public health, free enterprise or both enact clean bans that require everyone to play by the same set of rules.
Soon, our legislators will begin the process of reconciling the vastly different House and Senate versions of the statewide smoking ban. We’d like to think something akin to the House version, with its limited exemptions, will prevail, protecting the health of Hoosiers and maintaining a level playing field for business. But we fear the misguided attempts of those who say they don’t want to interfere with business will leave us with neither.•
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