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Lawmakers may clear the air with smoking ban

Publication Date: 2011-12-31
  • Author:Eric Bradner
  • Publication:Evansville Courier & Press

After years of failed efforts, 2012 could see the Indiana General Assembly finally approve – with some exemptions – a statewide public smoking ban.

"It's time. It needs to happen," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

The House passed variations of such bans for several consecutive years. For the first time in 2011, a Senate committee gave a smoking ban a hearing. It died, though, because lawmakers could not agree on whether and which exemptions ought to be included.

"The problem was that the advocates -- in this case, it was the American Cancer Society -- are very passionate people," said state Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "The idea that you can get 95 percent of what you're seeking and it's still not enough doesn't work real well."

This year, Long said, a smoking ban could get even further.

At casinos, bars and private clubs, the patronage "seems to tie into the smoking," Long said.

"I think if a bill were to be presented to the Legislature which had those exemptions in it, and the advocates accepted the fact that they need to exist, it might pass the finish line this year," he said.

"It's an emotional issue, and I totally understand that. But there has to be some give on the issue. It can't be all or nothing. It doesn't work; it never works. Hopefully we'll find the sweet spot this year."

This time, Gov. Mitch Daniels is lending his support to those who are pushing a ban.

During a speech announcing his legislative agenda, he name-dropped state Rep. Charlie Brown, the Gary Democrat who for years has sought a comprehensive ban.

The governor said, though, that it is likely the bill will include some exemptions.

"I'm for as few exceptions as is possible," Daniels said, "but we're all going to learn together how few that is."

The American Cancer Society, meanwhile, intends to continue to push for a smoking ban that does not exempt places like bars.

"As the only state in the Midwest without such a law, we recommend that our Indiana legislature look to our neighboring states, and others across the country, for model legislation that is proving smoke-free air laws bring significant health and economic benefit to states that pass them," said Amanda Estridge, manager of government relations for the ACS Great Lakes Division.

The group will have some allies.

"I live in a community that has a smoking ban and had it for a long time. Complete, no exemptions. Our bars haven't lost any business. In fact they're fuller than ever," said Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville.


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