We are at a loss to understand exactly what Indiana lawmakers are attempting to do with the smoking ban legislation working its way through the Statehouse.
Amendments to the proposed ban exempt the entirety of casinos and their properties - the original bill had limited smoking to the gaming floor - and to give bars an 18-month transitional period to adopt a non-smoking policy.
If the state is going to have a smoking ban it needs to be one with teeth, not one as weak as a puff of smoke.
There are valid arguments both for and against a smoking ban, and whether one supports it is a matter of which principles they hold most dear. To some, keeping government out of business is of utmost importance, and a smoking ban is an issue of freedom and overreaching state regulation. To others, preventing workers from being exposed to secondhand smoke is a matter of public health and a place where regulation will actually save taxpayers millions in the long run by improving Hoosiers' health.
While we traditionally favor less government intervention in the business world, we admit that the damaging effect smoking leaves in our state in terms of health risks and costs - according to advocates secondhand smoke costs Indiana more than $390 million dollars in excess medical expenses - makes a compelling case for a smoking ban. Delaware County, which has had a smoking ban for some time has lower rates of heart attacks compared to Grant County, according to local research.
So lawmakers' decision to continually propose a smoking ban that straddles the fence is perplexing. By exempting so many establishments - and given past attempts to pass the ban in Indiana we can expect the exemptions to grow as the process continues - businesses are treated differently for no clear reason. The health benefits and potential cost savings to employees at a bar are the same as those at a casino. A smoking ban is either a public health necessity or it's not.
Lawmakers must decide which principles they want to serve and commit to it. As it is, they've proposed a bill that unfairly limits the freedom of some businesses at the expense of others, while at the same time failing to fully follow through on the health benefits. Often, when no one gets exactly what they wanted it's a sign of a well-earned compromise. In this case, it's just a sign of an uncertain General Assembly.