Six months in, state smoking ban has some fans, some critics
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 5:30PM
Bartender Krystal Brennan (center, standing) takes orders at Sheffield's in Merrillville, Ind. Thursday January 3, 2012. Since the passage of new smoking laws, Sheffield's has become a 21 years old and over establishment in order to allow smoking. Seated from left are Chuck Garner of Hebron, Ron Schiesser and Terri Schiesser of Crown Point, and Dennis Reed of Lowell | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 6, 2013 6:08AM
Six months after the statewide smoking ban started, restaurants in Northwest Indiana are mixed on how it’s affecting their business.
The law prohibits smoking in most public places, and requires that people stand 8 feet from an entrance before lighting up. Exceptions to the ban include gambling facilities, cigar and hookah bars, tobacco retail stores, fraternal clubs and private residences.
Restaurants with bars have an option. If they choose to allow only customers who are 21 or older, they can continue to permit smoking within the establishment. The bar must also not be within a business where smoking could affect other patrons, such as a bar inside a hotel.
Or, the bar can choose to be smoke-free.
For Phil Holub, a co-owner of Sheffield’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Merrillville, the ban has become a headache. He and his business partner decided to continue offering smoking in Merrillville, but went smoke-free at their location in Dyer.
Even with both options, Holub feels the businesses are stuck on the losing end.
“I think it’s unfair to the businesses,” he said. “It’s the business’ responsibility to accommodate all customers, but now we have to choose.”
In Dyer, he loses on heating and cooling when customers walk outside to smoke, and he loses out on younger customers in Merrillville.
At first, Holub planned to split both locations in half. He had designs drafted where the only thing shared was the kitchen. Patrons would have had to walk outside to go from the restaurant to the sports bar, where smoking would have been allowed.
“But we couldn’t even do that,” he said. “We would have to have two separate companies, with two separate kitchens and everything.”
Jason Evans, the operator of Catch-22 in Merrillville, doesn’t see the issue the same way. He said his customers are adjusting to the change, and it’s not negatively affecting his bottom line.
“We get a lot of customers who are pleased that it’s not-smoking in the bar,” Evans said. “Even some of the smokers, they seem to be smoking a little less. It might be doing what it’s supposed to do, curtail people from smoking.”
The smoking ban was one of state Rep. Charlie Brown’s goals and took more than six years to pass the legislation.
Brown, D-Gary, has heard from local bar and tavern owners about their concerns. But he said a more strict smoking ban would level the playing field for all businesses and improve health.
“(Business owners) still maintain that those places with a combination of tavern and restaurants have lost customers,” Brown said. “But I think the solution is to have everything be smoke-free. That would be my dream.”
Brown said he will continue to push for a more complete smoking ban in 2013.