By TOM DAVIES
An extension of Indiana’s statewide smoking ban to include bars is unlikely to happen this year, with legislators saying this week more time is needed to see the effects of the current ban.
The exemption for bars is the largest of the loopholes included last year when lawmakers approved Indiana’s first statewide smoking restrictions. The law took effect in July.
The legislators who led the push for six years to pass the statewide ban have filed a bill that would remove the bar exemption, but don’t expect action to be taken on it during this year’s session.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he wouldn’t drop his goal of eventually eliminating all the exemptions from the smoking ban.
“I’m saying keep that subject out there and hopefully we will one day come into the 21st century in Indiana by saying all public places are smoke free,” said Brown, who sponsored the bill with Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero.
Current state law still gives people plenty of places to light up as it allows smoking in Indiana’s 13 casinos, along with bars, retail tobacco shops and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.
The law does prohibit smoking in most indoor workplaces, including all restaurants. Many local governments — including Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville — have tougher bans that include bars.
The wrangling over the ban that was passed last year would probably make most lawmakers leery of tackling the subject again so soon, said Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, who is chairman of the House Public Policy Committee to which the bill’s been assigned.
“I think they did a great job of coming to a compromise with that bill last year and I think we need to see how it works,” Davis said Thursday. “Less than a year, I don’t think, is enough time.”
Anti-smoking advocates pushed for a tougher ban last year, arguing that its restrictions were weak because of the numerous exemptions. Owners of bars and casinos argued that including them in a mandatory ban would be devastating to their businesses.
Danielle Patterson, a lobbyist for the Indiana chapter of the American Heart Association, said she knew of few troubles with compliance with the current restrictions and that several cities around the state have adopted tougher bans.
“While we would like to see every workplace smoke free, it is difficult right now to try to get the casinos,” Patterson said. “But it we feel that if we are able to remove the bar exemption, we will protect a significant number of workers. Our main goal is to protect as many workers as possible.”
Brown said he might try later to include casinos in Indiana’s ban since neighboring states with casinos are also taking that step.
“I think everybody will ultimately understand and appreciate that they need to do this,” Brown said.