Smoking ban generating strong reactions

Nearly 300 people filled the auditorium of Shortridge Middle School Thursday for the fourth and largest public meeting concerning the proposed countywide ban on smoking in public places. The speakers were heard by the City-County Council Committee on Children's Health and Environment. James Wolfe at the IU Public Opinion Laboratory describes the results of his survey on the smoking ban proposal.

The ban, Proposal 45, has already run a political gauntlet, with two major revisions currently on the table: an exemption for taverns and tobacco outlets, and a two-year implementation period for certain businesses, rather than the 60 days currently outlined in the proposal.

Under the guidance of committee chair Angela Mansfield, more than 80 speakers made their cases for and against the proposal.

James Wolfe, of the IU Public Opinion Laboratory, quoted the results of a survey commissioned by Smoke Free Indiana, in which he said that 88 percent of Marion County adults - including two-thirds of smokers - agreed that workers should be protected from secondhand smoke in the workplace. He also noted that only 17 percent of respondents said that the ban would cause them to go to restaurants less often, while 30 percent would do so more often.

Council member Jim Bradford, a vocal opponent of the ban, was not convinced.

"If all these wonderful things could happen, why isn't supply and demand making it happen already?" Bradford said. "Why do we need government to step in and control these things?"

The night's most emotional moment came when Bruce Hetrick described the recent death of his wife, Pamela Kline, to secondhand smoke-related cancer.

"I've heard people question each other's statistics and call each other names. I've heard council members say that they just wish this issue would go away. But this isn't about statistics or balance. It's about life and death," Hetrick said.

He also said that any argument stating the government shouldn't interfere in business was facile.

"Every law-abiding business in this county follows hundreds of regulations every day to protect the safety of employees and customers. Any councilor who thinks the government does not have a say in regulating businesses should read the government regulations, all 103 pages of them," Hetrick said. "If you love cash from carcinogens more than public health, buy me back my son's stepmother. Buy me back the woman I love. Buy me back my reason to live."

Hetrick was far from the only opponent of smoking present; a significant majority of the speakers were in favor of the ban. Committee chair Angela Mansfield said that the first of the four meetings was similar to this, and the other two were evenly divided between supporters and opponents.

"I'm given breathing apparatus to protect me from smoke when I fight fires, and yet I go back to my station and I'm exposed to secondhand smoke," said firefighter Jeff McKinney. "Anything that causes harm is a privilege, not a right. I have a right to breathe clean air."

"How many people do you need to see dying to make this decision?" Carlos Haz wondered.

Opponents of the ban spoke primarily to the issues of civil liberties and the right of business owners to run their business as they see fit.

"One of the strengths of Broad Ripple's growth is that it offers something for everyone: places where people can sit back and have a smoke, and places where people can sit back and not have a smoke," said Nicole Oprisu, owner of the Old Pro's Table. "If we genuinely believed we would be more successful as a smoke-free bar, believe me, we would be a smoke-free bar. This is my business. I call the shots. No one can speak about my business with the love and concern I do."

"Our argument is a civil liberties argument," said John Livengood of the Restaurant and Hospitality Association. "It's not a dollars and cents argument. How do you compromise a civil liberties issue? You're either free or you're not free."

The next step in the process takes place May 5 at the City-County Council, 200 E. Washington St., at 6 p.m., where the committee will vote on the proposal.