The latest bid to expand Indianapolis’ smoking ban to bars is moving more slowly than sponsors had hoped. And a proposed statewide ban could stall out amid a Statehouse standoff over the right-to-work bill. But with many bar owners viewing a ban as inevitable, at least two popular Downtown taverns opted this week to go smoke-free.
One may surprise you: The owner of the Slippery Noodle Inn — touted as Indiana’s oldest bar — long had lobbied against a smoking ban. The other is the Downtown location of the Claddagh Irish Pub.
“We decided to make the proactive move before the government tells us what to do,” said Josh Caplinger, a manager at the Slippery Noodle. He suggested some nearby smoking bars might follow suit.
Also on the owners’ minds: the droves of out-of-towners, accustomed to smoke-free bars, who will visit their South Meridian Street strip around the Super Bowl. And, for the Noodle, the prospect of attracting 2,500 employees moving across the street to health-conscious Rolls-Royce’s new campus.
When the City-County Council or the General Assembly will act on smoking bans isn’t clear.
But the Democrat-led council is likely to vote by the end of January on a bipartisan proposal that aims to mirror Republican Mayor Greg Ballard’s preferences on exemptions.
That’s not as soon as its sponsors would like, but they lack the super-majority required to suspend rules and take a quick vote at Monday’s meeting, when they are introducing the proposal.
Instead, a committee will take public testimony in coming weeks. A final vote could happen Jan. 30 — or Jan. 23, if the council moves up the meeting.
At the Statehouse, an effort to pass Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown’s statewide smoking ban bill, which would cover most bars, has heavy-hitting support. Gov. Mitch Daniels and House Speaker Brian Bosma, both Republicans, support a statewide ban before the Super Bowl.
On the first day of the session Wednesday, House Democrats, taking aim at the right-to-work bill that Republicans consider their top priority, huddled away from the floor, denying a quorum. If such tactics continue, the smoking ban could be a casualty.
The council proposal also faces potential hurdles, including the desire by some Democrats for a stronger measure that might run afoul of Ballard’s preferences. And the Ballard administration is attempting to haggle over the exemption for private clubs.
Still, incoming President Maggie Lewis said, “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to move it out of committee and pass it on the 30th.”
It could take effect before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl, she said, if Ballard declares an “urgent necessity” under state law.
Most details of the compromise are set, but Ballard’s advisers have leaned on the sponsors to relax a provision exempting nonprofit private and fraternal organizations from the ban if their memberships vote to retain smoking.
As the proposal is written, the groups could not allow children in their facilities if adults are allowed to smoke.
Some clubs and veterans halls now welcome children when they host weddings and other special events.
The sponsors said that allowing children in those clubs had not been included in Ballard’s previous requirements.
It’s a touchy subject. Last month, a previous GOP smoking ban proposal was voted down in a committee. Democrats based their opposition, in part, on a late amendment that would have allowed private clubs to allow children in separate nonsmoking areas.
Lewis said Wednesday that relaxing the club provision would be “a deal-breaker.”
Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter is hopeful of a resolution.
“The spirit we had talked about (earlier) wasn’t about changing the fundamental business model of these clubs,” he said. “We’re trying to work on some language that will respect that and honor everyone’s commitment to children.”
Another source of protest: the inclusion of electronic cigarettes in the proposed ban. Users claim the devices pose no risk to those around them and should still be allowed in bars.
Often touted as an aid to help smokers quit, “e-cigarettes” simulate smoking by converting liquid containing varying levels of nicotine into vapor.
“E-cigarettes don’t burn. They don’t create smoke,” said Duane Greene, 42, a Southeastside resident who switched to e-cigarettes in November 2010 after 26 years of smoking. “They haven’t been proven to be a danger to anyone, including the user.”
But there also haven’t been conclusive studies showing e-cigarettes are completely safe, either, so many health advocates view them cautiously.
Among the council proposal’s sponsors, Republican Ben Hunter and Democrat Angela Mansfield say they aren’t swayed on e-cigarettes, despite being bombarded by emails urging their removal from the proposed ban.