Indiana News

Columbus City Council Passes Citywide Smoking Ban

12/5/2012

Come July, smoking will no longer be allowed in any businesses within Columbus City limits.

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That, after the City Council voted on second reading to approve an ordinance that bans individuals from lighting up. The measure was vigorously supported by anti-smoking advocates who worked tirelessly to stamp out the rights of the owners and operators of five bars and seven private clubs in Columbus to choose whether or not their patrons would be allowed to smoke.

Council members pointed out repeatedly through the months-long process that the state smoking ban adopted in July that allows smoking in bars, private clubs and betting parlors could be strengthened by local municipalities. According to the language of the ordinance, the purpose of this smoking ban is "protect the public health and welfare of the community by further prohibiting in public places and places of employment not covered by the Indiana code."

Along with bars and taverns that were exempted under the state law, smoking is also prohibited in tobacco shops, all outdoor restaurant dining areas, including an 8 foot perimeter beyond the dining area and all outdoor city transit waiting areas, such as bus stops. The 8 foot extending perimeter is in effect for these areas as well and signage indicating the perimeter must be prominently displayed.

Mark Wilcox, owner of Scores Sports Bar and Grill, was visibly shaken by the council's decision. "It's just another example of individual rights being taken away by government," he said. That seemed to be the prevailing theme from those in attendance opposed to the ordinance. Local veteran Steve Baldwin rose to speak to the council. He was adamantly against the measure, identifying it as another tool for government to further chip away at individual rights and responsibilities. "I served my country for freedom," said Baldwin, emphasizing the word "freedom." Another unnamed dissenter told council members that he occasionally frequents fast food restaurants. Reminding the council that there are healthier options, he rhetorically asked when the government would shut down that industry in an effort to protect it's citizens.

As for Baldwin, he says he'll do his best to keep his establishment running and his people employed. He says he will hold off implementing the smoking ban at Scores until the last possible moment. Baldwin says he is hopeful that his patrons will understand and still want to frequent his establishment, but he is concerned. He added that his main business concern is that once the ban is implemented, he'll see a large drop in business. With time, he is hopeful that people will start coming back. Baldwin says the trick will be staying solvent in the meantime.

Anti-smoking advocates, including Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Stephanie Truly, were thrilled. "I think that this does put Columbus in the forefront of progression," said Truly. She noted that Columbus is one of the first communities to implement a smoke-free air law as well as one of the first municipalities to implement a local smoking ordinance stronger than the state law. Truly says the ordinance will aid Columbus in being a place that other cities will look to. "We will be a another great example once again to other communities," she said.

The final vote was 4 to 2 in favor of the ban. Frank Miller and Aaron Hankins were the "no" votes, while Fifth District Councilman Tim Shuffett was absent from Tuesday night's proceeding. Once the vote was completed, Councilman Jim Lienhoop invited Truly to address the audience, including the business owners who fought the ban. Truly told the owners that Healthy Communities will be there to help them through the transition. That statement caught the ire of Councilman Hankins, who accused Truly and other lobbyists of actively trying to destroy businesses while having the audacity to offer help after their goals had been attained. The At-Large Councilman added that the purpose of government is to protect the individual from the majority. Hankins comments were met with anger from a number of anti-smoking activists, one of which demanded that Hankins apologize. He refused.

Punishment for not adhering to the smoking ban will result in a $50 fine for each incident for the individual that lights up. Fines can be administered by members of the Columbus Police Department, as well as Code Enforcement. Any individual who would like to make a smoking complaint is being directed to contact police.

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