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Senate committee kills smoking ban

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Legislators on the Senate Public Policy Committee voted against a proposed smoking ban, HB 1018, the much criticized bill that included exemptions for casinos, bars, fraternal clubs, smoke shops and nursing homes.

The proposal cleared Indiana's House of Representatives in January with a 68-31 vote, a move that initially prompted a motivated response from anti-smoking groups disappointed by the bill's lax standards. According to a WTHR report:

"The American Cancer Society would like to make everything smoke free, but what our push is now, what we realistically think we can do, is asking bars and taverns to go smoke free," said Lucy Bruce-Whitaker, American Cancer Society.

In an effort to persuade lawmakers to further amend the ban, nearly 200 demonstrators poured into the Statehouse on Tuesday, mostly American Cancer Society volunteers sporting red shirts emblazoned with the endorsement, "I support smokefree air."

Danielle Patterson, chair of the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air, said in a statement Wednesday:

“Today is truly a devastating loss not only for the thousands of Hoosier workers who are exposed every day at work to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, and not only for the two-thirds of Hoosiers who support statewide smokefree air, but for public health policy in general."

Advocacy groups speaking out for a more restrictive ban have denounced legislators like Senate Committee Chair Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) for allegedly bowing to the influence of special interest groups.

Indiana bar and tavern owners have held strong against the ban, voicing concerns that a true prohibition on smoking in their establishments would hurt business. But it may be in Hoosiers' best interests, in both health and finance, to heed warnings from the medical community on this one. A 2009 study conducted by the Bowen Research Center at the IU School of Medicine found that Hoosiers pay roughly $390 million in health care costs and loss of life each year as a result of secondhand smoke.

No word yet on the lobby's next move. But, according to Patterson:

“We are not giving up. We know that smokefree air is the only way to protect workers from exposure to secondhand smoke, and we will continue to fight for a strong, smokefree air bill that protects employees of bars, taverns and restaurants — workers who deserve the same protections as those in office buildings, schools and other smokefree environments.”

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