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Council looks for compromise on smoking ban


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COLUMBUS, Ind. — An attempt by the Columbus City Council to strike a compromise on a comprehensive city smoking ban upset anti-smoking proponents and gained limited support from local bar owners.

A standing-room-only crowd Wednesday packed the Cal Brand Meeting Room at Columbus City Hall, including eight members of the Young Marines who came in support of a tougher smoking law in the city.

In October, the City Council proposed an ordinance that would prohibit smoking in bars, private clubs, outdoor dining areas and city transit waiting areas.

However, the ordinance was tabled until the Wednesday meeting to give councilmen more time to meet with those who might be affected by changes and to gather information to form their opinions.

 

Councilman Frank Jerome said the discussions with the clubs and bars led to the idea of a compromise. Private clubs would follow the state law, which already makes them separate smoking areas from non-smoking areas. Current bars that permit smoking would be grandfathered in under a stronger city ordinance, but all new bars would have to be smoke-free.

Councilman Ryan Brand said the compromise is one step toward a comprehensive city smoking ban.

"I think everyone needs to understand this is not the end of the discussion. ... If we build momentum a little at a time, the community will be (more open) to (a comprehensive ban)," Brand said.

Not everyone on the council agreed. The motion to table the proposed comprehensive ordinance, to allow time for the amendment to be written, passed by a 4-3 margin. Dascal Bunch, Tim Shuffett and Jim Lienhoop, who expressed support for the comprehensive ordinance, voted against tabling it.

"I think the ordinance before us creates a level playing field for everyone," Shuffett said.

Brand and Jerome acknowledged benefits of a comprehensive smoking ban, but expressed concerns about the impact on bars and their ability to do business. And, Jerome noted that some bar owners in Indianapolis are seeking an injunction against Indianapolis' smoking ban, which includes all bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and hotels.

"We're trying to find a way to recognize everyone's rights," Jerome said.

Anti-smoking proponents balked at the compromise.

"This is a no-brainer, folks. I am so, so disappointed that it is so difficult for you," said Deborah Richard, a local tobacco cessation counselor.

Dr. David Wilson, a Columbus pulmonologist, said permitting smoking in bars would be a discriminatory act against its workers, because workers in other setting would be protected by the ordinance.

"This is a dangerous situation to put yourselves in," he said.

Amy Gilham, co-owner of the Cozy Lounge, said she liked the compromise except for the provision that a change in location or ownership of a bar would mean it would have to become smoke-free. Gilham said she'd like to find a new location for the bar with cheaper rent, but the compromise would force the bar to become smoke-free.

Mark Wilcox, owner of Scores, said many bars rent their locations and are at the mercy of their landlords. He and Gilham supported the grandfather clause for existing bars be tied to ownership, not location.

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