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Most Bars In Marion County Could Be Smoke-free Soon

A surprise bid by the City-County Council president to pass a stronger smoking cigarettes ban covering bars and bowling alleys -- in the waning days of the Republican majority -- has caught two key groups off guard.

Democrats had been making plans to push for an even stronger measure after they take control of the council Jan. 1. No matter who's in charge, their votes are vital for passage of an expanded smoking cigarettes ban in any form, since many Republicans are opposed.

And anti-smoking cigarettes advocates called the move by Republicans -- with backing from Mayor Greg Ballard -- "disingenuous," at best.

Both groups are wary of several exemptions President Ryan Vaughn says he plans to include in his proposal, including cigar and hookah bars and, as Ballard has long insisted, veterans halls.

But aside from coming disputes over the details, Vaughn's announcement Tuesday moves a stronger smoking cigarettes ban closer to reality than it's been since the council passed a ban covering most other workplaces in 2005.

Vaughn says his intent is to meet Democrats' own stated deadline: having a ban on smoking cigarettes in bars in place before Super Bowl festivities begin in late January.

A spokesman for Ballard -- a Republican who threatened to veto such a measure two years ago but has softened his stance since then -- said unequivocally that he supports Vaughn's proposal.

"If the council passes the proposal as introduced by Councilor Vaughn, the mayor will sign it," said Marc Lotter, Ballard's communications director.

Vaughn plans to introduce his proposal Dec. 5, with a vote possible Dec. 19. If passed, the ordinance would take effect Jan. 22, two weeks before the Super Bowl.

Earlier passage would sidestep two problems with Democrats' plans, as Vaughn and the mayor's office see it: giving businesses ample notice before the Super Bowl, and meeting a state law's requirement of a period of published notice before a law imposing penalties for violations can take effect.

Angela Mansfield, Democrats' chief proponent of an expanded ban, disagrees that the published-notice provision will apply, since the penalties are already in the current smoking cigarettes ban.

If Vaughn is hoping for a "spirit of bipartisan cooperation," as his news release said Tuesday, Democratic leaders aren't yet willing partners.

"That is still hypocrisy of the highest level," Minority Leader Joanne Sanders said. "If that is what (Republicans) believed, they would have introduced it before the election. . . . They could have passed it any time in the last two years, but they avoided it."

She also pointed out that Mansfield has worked hard on crafting a proposal since the last attempt in 2009 failed. "To me," Sanders said, "this is just stealing her thunder."

Mansfield, who had no warning of Vaughn's announcement, said the move pre-empts the intentions of new council members from both sides of the aisle who will take their seats in January. She has worked with Republican Councilman Ben Hunter to craft a proposal.

But she fears Vaughn's move, coming with so many exemptions, could set back the prospects for a stronger ban more to her liking.

"He's using a lame-duck session to pass the weakest proposal he could get through," Mansfield said. "Based on my discussions with all of those who are going to fill the seats next year, at the council level we could get (a more comprehensive ban) done. We'd have at least 18 votes."

Democrats will have a 16-13 majority after Jan. 1.

In addition to bars and bowling alleys, Vaughn says, his proposal would ban smoking cigarettes in hotel rooms as well as restaurants that slipped through the current law by allowing only patrons who are 18 or older.

His proposal would exempt cigar and hookah bars -- newly defined as "tobacco specialty bars" based on sales -- as well as retail cigarettes online stores and nonprofit fraternal organizations, including veterans' halls.

Vaughn, Hunter and Barbara Malone are the only current Republican council members who have supported an expanded smoking cigarettes ban. Republicans currently have 15 seats, while Democrats have 13, and there is one Libertarian.

Based on a survey of his caucus Monday night, Vaughn said, at least a couple of other Republicans have changed their stance. Among them is Michael McQuillen, the majority leader.

McQuillen said his opposition had become his "biggest bone of contention" with his wife, and he sees Vaughn's proposed exemptions as appropriate.

"It is inevitable this is going to happen," he said. "This is something that does not have to be a painful, long, drawn-out process."

Anti-smoking cigarettes advocates, who push for as few exemptions as possible, typically are wary of smoking cigarettes ban proposals that begin with several exemptions.

"Getting bars and taverns is a minimum goal at this point," said Lindsay Grace, chairwoman of Smoke Free Indy.

She and a spokesman for another group said they would withhold stating support or opposition until they read Vaughn's formal proposal, which won't be available until early December.

"For a lame-duck council to attempt to undercut the new council and . . . claim that it's because they're interested in making the bars smoke-free before the Super Bowl seems disingenuous," said Kevin O'Flaherty of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

He took exception to Vaughn's suggestion that, if advocates and Democrats think the new law is too weak, "they could always come back and ask for more (next year) if they want to."

While many bar owners still cast a skeptical eye on a ban, some welcome one.

A few years ago, the Chatterbox Jazz Club tried going smoke-free during performances. It was a "disaster," said owner David Andrichik.

So he went back to allowing smoking cigarettes.

But Andrichik, who describes himself as being four months shy of three decades as a secondhand smoker, would love to see a ban.

"A more extensive ban that would put all bars on a level playing field is tremendous," he said. "It would be best for me personally, for my customers and for the city."

Some, however, took issue with the idea that the city must expand its ban in advance of the Super Bowl just because many visitors are coming from places where smoking cigarettes already is verboten.

"You think that out of all of these thousands of people that are coming to Indianapolis, that none of them smokes?" asked Dollie Settle, who owns the Red Key Tavern on North College Avenue along with her husband, a fellow smoker. "I don't know why we want to be like the other states."

Her establishment already is having a tough time, she says, and she fears a ban could hurt it further, since many of their customers smoke.

Scott Seach, owner of Beech Grove Bowl, also fears that the passage of a smoking cigarettes ban will damage his business, which he said is the only bowling alley in the city to allow smoking cigarettes throughout its premises. Since other alleys went smoke-free, except for inside lounges, he has seen his business increase.

"It's a frequent phone call: 'Do you allow smoking cigarettes?' " he said. "Eight percent to 20 percent are glad that we allow smoking cigarettes."

Sitting at the Front Page Sports Bar & Grill on Tuesday evening in Downtown Indianapolis, Scott Bebee, 34 -- enjoying a cigarette and a beer -- said the decision of whether to allow smoking cigarettes should be left to bars.

"To enforce it, it's -- for lack of a better word -- fascist," Bebee said.

Although he does frequent both nonsmoking cigarettes and smoking cigarettes establishments, he said he likely would spend less money in places that are smoke-free.

His friend Andi Burns, 34, spent years on the West Coast, where cheap cigarettes bans abound. There, she said, bars often have outdoor patios where people can go for a smoke. Most places here are not set up that way, she added.

Moving to Indianapolis seven years ago required little adjustment, she said.

Andrea Townsend, a bartender at the Front Page, said she would welcome a ban. A nonsmoker, she has noticed that in the three years she has worked at the bar, her voice has changed because of the smoke.

"It's not like we're the forerunners. We need to catch up with the rest of the country," she said.

 

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