Jerry Davich: Smoking ban — cough, cough — finally kicks in
Jerry Davich email@example.com June 30, 2012 9:20PM
Scott Bridges (left) and Jeff Bridges, brothers and owners, are photographed at Bridges' Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith, Ind. Thursday June 28, 2012. Bridges went smoke-free ahead of the mandatory July 1 date to do so. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2012 6:10AM
Today is the day when the statewide smoking ban goes into effect across Indiana and I, for one, publicly applaud this public health achievement.
I plan to celebrate it by dining at a local restaurant that I typically avoid because it smells like an old ashtray at a beat-up bar. You know the ones, they ridiculously cite some invisible wall separating its smoking and “nonsmoking” sections. What a joke. But not any more. At least I hope.
Sure, there will be restaurant owners who drag their feet to comply with the new — and still controversial — law in fear of losing customers who routinely light up after eating. Some eatery managers have told me, off the record, that they will delay complying until they’re forced, either by fines or by enforcement.
For the record, the new smoking ban includes enclosed public places, restaurants, workplaces, and a few other places. It does not include bars, not-for-profit private clubs and fraternal groups, casinos, cigar/hookah bars, and smoke shops, among other exemptions.
But that’s OK. Those places will, in time, also be included in the ban and for the best of reasons — our health. Hoosiers are already high on most every national list for obesity, inactivity and smoking — the Bermuda Triangle of bad lifestyle choices.
A new Ball State University study finds that 21 percent of Hoosiers admit to regularly lighting up a cigarette, costing the state nearly $2.6 billion in productivity losses and $2.2 billion in health care costs each year. Indiana ranks 42nd worst among all 50 states in terms of percentage of population.
In fact, nearly 10,000 deaths in Indiana each year are attributable to smoking even though the habit is the leading cause of preventable death in the country.
On the upside, the percentage of current smokers in Indiana has dropped from about 29 percent in 1996.
One of those Hoosiers is Denise Anderson, who stopped smoking a month ago after her 30-year, two-packs-a-day habit. And she did it for a reason that may be copied by other long-time smokers affected by the statewide smoking ban.
The 62-year-old Schererville woman quit lighting up because one of her favorite bars, Bridge’s Scoreboard Restaurant and Sports Bar in Griffith, switched to a smoke-free environment. The place did so back in April, well ahead of the July 1 deadline for its family-dining restaurant and way ahead of the potential future deadline for its bar.
Anderson did so to make it “easier” for her when she frequents other restaurants that go smoke-free, and also because the crazy-high cost of cigarettes is nearly criminal.
However, she is against the statewide smoking ban, citing too much government intrusion.
Will ban be enforced?
Jeff Bridges, co-owner of the Griffith bar and eatery, admitted that yes, he did lose some regular customers since his place went smoke-free. But he has made up for it with an influx in families who now dine at his kid-friendly restaurant.
“It was a very touchy subject for a lot of people,” said Bridges, a nonsmoker. “We had a choice, but not really. I have no regrets. If anything, our business has gotten a little stronger because of it.”
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, told me on my radio show that many of his fellow lawmakers opposed the ban, citing their constituents’ opposition. But, in truth, the lawmakers’ opposition came from their own personal stances, not that of the Hoosiers they represent, Brown said.
Regarding the ban that is now law, it’s going to take a lot of “individual policing” to enforce the law, he noted, meaning customers and workplace employees will have to report violations to officials.
“People can call the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, and they can also call their local health department,” Brown said.
Will any nonsmoker do so? I’m not sure.
The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission is the primary enforcement authority, and violators may be fined up to $1,000 per violation. Having three or more unrelated violations will be considered a Class A infraction, with a possible maximum of $10,000 in penalties.
Critics claim the law’s language regarding enforcement is too vague, and they have a point. But unlike, say, violators of the seat-belt law, this new ban affects other Hoosiers who are literally sick and tired of secondhand smoke.
It also should be noted that Northwest Indiana municipalities can enact even stricter smoke-free policies (hint, hint), but none can be less restrictive than the statewide ban. In other words, we can only go up from here.
As our backward state grapples with entering the 21st century, the facts about smoking are black, white and deadly. Smoking kills half of its users, and an American dies about every six seconds due to tobacco.
This ban isn’t about government intrusion. It’s about intelligence intrusion. And it’s about damn time.
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