Is Indianapolis next? 

Bars go non-smoking in Bloomington

Bars go non-smoking in Bloomington

On New Year’s Day, Bloomington further eclipsed the rest of the state, including Indianapolis, as being the most progressive and, perhaps, most “metro” area by enforcing a smoking ban in public places — bars in particular — something that New York City and Los Angeles have already embraced.

“Although Bloomington is the first city in Indiana to go smoke-free,” said John Macy, a consultant for the Monroe County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition, “we expect and hope that other cities and communities throughout the state will follow suit.”

According to an MTPCC press release, second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 unfiltered chemical compounds, 250 of them are poisonous and 43 cancer-causing. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies second-hand smoke in the same category as asbestos, another air-born cancer-causing agent.

“A lot of people have been looking forward to [the smoking ban],” Macy said, “especially non-smoking employees of bars.” The ordinance took effect Aug. 1, 2003, but bars and private clubs were given extra time to adjust business practices. The prevailing fear is a loss of business because smokers have nowhere to puff.

Indy’s alternative

Business remains strong at Radio Radio, one of the few clubs in Indianapolis to go smoke-free of its own accord. David “Tufty” Clough, owner of the popular Fountain Square night club, made the decision on behalf of non-smoking employees because air-filtering devices were ineffective — and due to personal health issues.

“I thought it was kind of time to do that,” he said, “rather than wait for the government to tell us what to do.” Initially, there was some business loss, mostly with the regular smoker-drinker crowd, Clough said, but most people who come to see bands aren’t concerned about smoking.

Reaction mixed here

On a typical night at Radio Radio, smokers stood on the sidewalk under the marquee, exhaling into the air, bathed in bluish-red neon light. Smokers and non-smokers gathered in groups. Conversations suggested the social nature of smoking.

David Russell leaned against a wall and lit up. He said he thinks it’s ridiculous for Indianapolis to consider enacting a smoking ban. He believes that going to a bar is a health risk, since alcohol is basically a poison, and people, in his opinion, have the power to choose.

“They have a choice to walk in the door or not,” Russell said, “but it’s good to have non-smoking bars.” Although non-smokers can choose to go to a non-smoking venue or less-smoky bars, non-smokers, once inside a smoke-filled venue, cannot choose to breath cleaner air.

“I think they should do it for the servers and the bartenders and the people who work in these environments,” said Janie Pfeffer, who regularly avoids certain bars because they are too smoky. Smelly clothes and breathing second-hand smoke are two other reasons why Pfeffer would support a smoking ban.

Radio Radio owner Clough said that cleaning up after non-smoking shows is easier. The mess created by smokers, he said, is 10 times that created by non-smokers. He also receives thanks from many touring bands and artists because Radio Radio is a smoke-free venue.

“They’re singing every night,” he said, “it’s better for their voices.” Clough, also a member of rockabilly group Bigger Than Elvis, sees a turning point in the future where artists will want performance spaces to be smoke-free.

‘Changing social norms’

Bloomington’s Blue Bird, like Radio Radio, took a proactive approach, going smoke-free in December. According to a recent Bloomington Herald-Times article, the response has been positive and enforcement of the policy has not been difficult.

Bloomington health officials and organizations were quick to support a smoke-free ordinance. The city holds a monthly meeting regarding the policy, and officials have been careful to include bar and venue owners in the meetings and process.

“We’re kind of changing social norms,” said MTPCC’s Macy, who was involved in a similar tobacco prevention and cessation coalition in Atlanta. Once people get used to the idea, he said, going to smoke-filled venues in other towns or being offered smoking or non-smoking no longer makes sense.

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