In a brief hearing Thursday, members of the Interim Study Committee on Public Policy voted to leave the state’s smoking ban alone.
The legislative group recommended in a 10 to 1 vote that the General Assembly not move to prohibit smoking in casinos, bars and private clubs. Indiana’s statewide anti-smoking law, enacted in 2012, exempts these three types of businesses from the ban.
Earlier in October, the study committee heard testimony from proponents and opponents of the smoking law. Chair Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, alluded to the passions surrounding this issue when he described the committee’s final report as containing enough ammunition to support any smoking bill a legislator may choose to introduce.
The vote on the recommendation was uneventful with Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, casting the lone dissent.
After the hearing, Alting said recommending the Legislature ban smoking from the state’s casinos would be contrary to actions taken in the House of Representatives and Senate in recent years. The bills enacted in the last three years have all been intended to give the gambling operations a financial boost; prohibiting cigarettes and cigars would drastically hurt sales in these establishments, he said.
Still, Alting said the state’s smoking ban could be tweaked, namely by expanding the exemption to include bowling alleys. He recounted the testimony of a bowling alley owner who asserted she lost her business, went bankrupt and is now living in her car because customers are staying away since they can no longer light up.
“I’m saying there should probably be some exemptions for those older bowling alleys to allow the small business person to survive and be able to continue their business rather than hearing these heartbreaking stories, and there’re many of them in that business,” Alting said.
He has no plans to introduce any smoking legislation during the 2016 session. The Statehouse will convene only for a short time which will not give legislators enough time to study such a policy change, he said.
GiaQuinta said he also has no plans to introduce bills regarding smoking but he would be willing to help if another member proposed a bill strengthening the ban.
In voting against the committee’s recommendation to retain the smoking exemptions, GiaQuinta cited testimony that argued there is no evidence that businesses’ revenues are hurt by banning cigarettes and cigars. However, the state’s overall economy is impacted by the health care costs incurred from smoking, he said.
“My own personal experience watching how things have evolved in Fort Wayne, I’ve seen studies from Bloomington and others that have adopted no smoking bans in bars and restaurants and other places like that, they’ve shown better health results,” GiaQuinta said. “And I think that’s important.”