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Indiana House panel backs statewide smoking ban

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Smoking would be banned in most public places statewide in Indiana under legislation endorsed Wednesday by a state House committee.

The bill approved by the House Public Policy Committee on a 7-5 vote would ban smoking in restaurants, bars and other places where the public is allowed but exempt casinos and pari-mutuel horse racing venues. The bill now moves to the full House.

The House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to pass the Senate and died during late-session negotiations.

“This is a bill whose time has come,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, the bill’s primary sponsor. “Secondhand smoke does a lot of harm to people who don’t smoke.”

Brown said he chose to exempt casinos in this year’s bill because when he tried to win passage of his bill last year that did not exempt them, “those entities hired every single person in the hall that was available to oppose it.”

He also said a ban that included casinos could hurt their business and reduce tax revenue to the state at a time when Indiana’s tax collections are falling far short of previous expectations and depleting the state’s reserves.

“It troubles me to talk about revenue over the health of individuals but I’m for small walking this,” Brown said.

Brown noted that a law banning smoking in restaurants and bars in North Carolina, which produces nearly half of the nation’s tobacco, went into effect earlier this month. Many other state’s have statewide smoking bans in public places, and Brown said Indiana should follow their lead.

Local smoke-free workplace laws have been implemented in eight counties and 31 cities in Indiana, according to the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency. But the rules vary, and many communities have no regulations at all.

Some proponents of Brown’s bill said it would level the playing field across the state, but some lawmakers who voted against it said bans should be local decisions.

According to the state’s tobacco prevention agency, 27 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have passed smoke-free laws that cover restaurants and bars. Four other states Florida, Idaho, Louisiana and Nevada have smoke-free laws that cover restaurants but exempt stand-alone bars.

South Dakota has also enacted a smoke-free law covering all workplaces including restaurants and bars, but it is on hold pending a voter referendum in November.

Two tavern owners testified against the bill Wednesday, including Don Marquardt, owner of Timber’s Casual Dining and Lounge in Angola in northeastern Indiana.

“It is a legal product, it’s sold to adults and adults should be able to smoke legal products with other adults,” Marquardt said. “Business owners should be allowed to decide whether to allow smoking or not. People should be able to decide which establishments or restaurants they want to enter.”

Michael Kelley, 57, of Muncie spoke in favor of the bill. He said he worked for 20 years in auto plants and union halls that allowed smoking and was diagnosed with cancer at age 50 that his doctors said was caused by secondhand smoke.

“I was shocked because I have never smoked a cigarette in my life,” said Kelley, who is now cancer free. “Nobody should ever have to choose work over their health.”


Posted 1/21/2010




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