Up in smoke 

On the last night of th

On the last night of the Midwest Music Summit earlier this month, Radio Radio was packed to the gills, with people lined up outside waiting to get in to see the main draws on the bill, The Pieces and Cat Power. The scene outside the bar was nothing unusual for a big show, but inside, something was palpably different. It took a few seconds to put my finger on it: although there were people everywhere I turned, with a line for drinks three deep all around the bar, no thick blue haze of cigarette smoke floated above our heads. And then I saw the signs, politely but firmly informing patrons that Radio Radio was a non-smoking venue that evening, and that people who wanted to smoke could do so in the parking lot out back — where the majority of my friends ended up spending the bulk of the night. Much to my surprise, I heard little complaint from my smoking companions — nor did Radio Radio owner David “Tufty” Clough — and for once, I was able to enjoy the blessedly smoke-free atmosphere — and music — inside. This February, a proposal to ban smoking in public places throughout Indianapolis was introduced to the City-County Council, and after acrimonious testimony from both pro- and anti-smoking camps, quietly consigned to a study committee, where it will remain in stasis at least until after the November elections. Bloomington enacted a similar ban earlier this summer, although bars have been given until 2005 to fully comply with the regulations. But rather than waiting for a law that may or may not pass, Radio Radio’s Tufty decided to experiment with his own smoking ban, and he reports that the results were generally favorable. Although it would seem patently un-punk rock for this local alternative culture icon to make his Radio Radio customers follow an extra rule, Tufty believes the benefits of the ban outweighed any griping from disgruntled smokers. Even though the crowd at the show was much larger than usual, he says it took staff much less time to clean up afterwards, and that they felt better the next day for not having worked in a smoke-filled bar all night. Tufty, who quit smoking seven years ago to set a good example for his now-teenage daughter, says a legal smoking ban “wouldn’t be a big deal,” and until it happens, he’ll continue to go smoke-free occasionally of his own volition, and no longer sells cigarettes at the bar. “More and more people are quitting,” he says. “Smoking has had its day.” For many non-smokers, especially those who must work in smoky restaurants and bars, an official ban can’t come soon enough. But would the idea ever gain enough support to become law in a tobacco-loving town like Indianapolis? According to the CDC, we have the dubious distinction of having the third highest rate of smoking in the nation, right behind Toledo and Knoxville. Not surprisingly, our rate of lung cancer is 50 percent higher than the U.S. average, and we also suffer disproportionately from heart disease, asthma, and strokes. All told, tobacco kills more than 10,000 Hoosiers every year — about one every hour. And although Indiana is losing ground to other states in many areas, we’re on track to become one of the smoking-est states in the nation, up from number eight in 1999 to fourth just a year later, as other states enacted programs to reduce smoking and encourage people to quit. Opponents of the smoking ban claim that smoking is a personal choice, hurting no one but the smoker, but a 1999 National Cancer Institute study sends that argument up in smoke: it found that secondhand smoke is responsible for the early deaths of some 65,000 Americans each year. The EPA estimates that secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths in non-smokers annually. If those numbers don’t move you, how about these: a study released last year by IUPUI researchers concluded that smoking in Marion County cost businesses more than $316 million in 2000 — in increased health care costs, lost productivity, absenteeism, disability, and premature death of employees. $56 million of that cost was attributable to non-smoking employees exposed to secondhand smoke. Although I’m usually a “U.S. out of my uterus”-type who opposes undue restrictions on personal privacy and individual freedoms, I support a public smoking ban in Indianapolis, both on the strength of the research that makes the true economic and health costs of public smoking perfectly clear, and as someone who spent years working in smoky coffeehouses and bars, and waking up feeling lousy the next morning as a result of breathing so much smoke. I don’t just support the ban — I think it’s one of the best things Indianapolis could do for itself, not only in terms of individual health — both for nonsmokers and smokers looking to quit — and decreased healthcare costs and productivity losses, but towards the goal of making Indianapolis a generally more progressive, pleasant place to live. Dire predictions abounded when New York enacted its smoking ban in March, but a recent study by the city found that the mass job losses bar and restaurant lobbyists warned of haven’t occurred. On a vacation in New York a few weeks ago, I didn’t observe any packs of dejected smokers roaming the streets; from Manhattan to Queens to Brooklyn, most everyone seemed to be handling the ban just fine. Indianapolis often lags behind the nation when it comes to progressive lawmaking on issues like domestic partnership, diversity, taxes, wages, and health. What if, just this once, we decided to move into the vanguard by passing a smoking ban, becoming a model for other Midwest cities of what to do, rather than what not to?

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