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Outcry snuffs out immediate smoking ban

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If Columbus is going to consider passing a stronger city smoking ban, then so should Bartholomew County, according to some city officials.

Tuesday, the Columbus City Council put the brakes on an effort to pass an ordinance that would prohibit smoking in bars, private clubs, outdoor restaurant dining areas and outdoor city transit waiting areas.

The proposed ordinance was tabled until the council’s Nov. 7 meeting.

What’s next?

The Columbus City Council has tabled the proposed smoking ordinance until its Nov. 7 meeting, set for 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 123 Washington St. The meeting could be moved to the Cal Brand Meeting Room on the first floor of City Hall to accommodate a larger crowd.

Council member Frank Jerome cited the need to talk with county officials about adopting a countywide smoking ordinance and to continue visiting bars and private clubs to speak with their owners and employees.

Mayor Kristen Brown said that if smoking is a public health issue, then a “big part of the equation” is missing if the county is not discussing a smoking ban, too.

“I would feel a little uncomfortable making a public health decision without the county being along side it,” Brown said.

Stephanie Truly, representing the county’s Tobacco Awareness Action Team, said the group is working with the Bartholomew County Commissioners to gain support for a countywide smoking ban. She added that a comprehensive city ordinance is viewed as a first step.

“We feel that, if we have a strong, comprehensive city law, we’ll have something to show the county,” she said.

Commissioner Carl Lienhoop is supportive of a comprehensive smoking ban, Truly added.

Council member Frank Miller wondered why the proposed smoking ordinance was on the agenda because he said it seemed like the council wanted some time to make a decision.

Miller said he and Jerome have been talking with owners and employees at local bars and private clubs but have not had time to visit all of them.

Anti-smoking advocates have stated how a comprehensive ordinance would protect employees, Miller said, but he added that most of the employees he’s spoken with are smokers.

“I do hear the rights of the workers who feel they have a right to smoke in the restaurant,” Miller said.

Tim Gilham, owner of the Cozy Lounge, said it should be his decision to make a change that would affect his customer base, and potentially his ability to earn a profit, not the council’s. He added that there are enough nonsmoking bars and restaurants in town to give people a choice.

“This is my choice, my decision, my bar, my name on the license. Where do my rights fall into all of this?” Gilham said.

The mayor said one could argue that the state law is fine as-is, because there are only about a dozen establishments in the city that allow smoking.

“I have plenty of choices, and I believe those workers do, too,” Brown said.

Council member Jim Lienhoop, a cousin of Carl Lienhoop, said he introduced the proposed city ordinance because the issue had been discussed at five previous meetings, and it was time for something to be considered.

He said the reason for the proposed ordinance goes beyond protecting employees from secondhand smoke.

“People shouldn’t be confronted with air you can’t breathe and tolerate,” Jim Lienhoop said.

He also said the ordinance would set a good example for children and young adults.

Truly said it should be the right of every employee to breathe clean air.

“We’re talking about not only the workers that work in the bars today, but the future bar workers and future workers in clubs,” she said. “And we’re talking about the potential new business that could come to Columbus that would be protected under this law.”

Council member Aaron Hankins disagreed, saying it was an issue about people’s rights, which he said were established by the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

“We’re dealing with the rights of man. Our inalienable rights that are endowed by our creator of life, liberty and property than shall not be infringed upon,” he said.

Hankins’ comment about knowledge of the Founding Fathers drew a sharp reply from Truly.

“To speak to the knowledge of our Founding Fathers, they also were slave owners. So, to that point, I wouldn’t be able to be in agreement,” said Truly, an African-American.

Hankins added that the role of government is to protect the individual inalienable rights of all men.

“This ordinance simply encroaches upon our freedom and our liberty,” he said.

Jay Flach, administrator of the Columbus Moose Family Center, said its facility has only one room for smoking, and the rest of the building is nonsmoking.

The Moose employs 22 people, four of whom do not smoke. The facility has places where nonsmokers can work and not be exposed to smoke, Flach said.

Also, the Moose has separate heating and air conditioning systems for the room that permits smoking and the areas that are smoke-free, so that smoke-filled air doesn’t mix with smokeless air.

Flach said a stronger ordinance is not needed, and it would only cause bars and clubs to lose customers and members and likely go out of business. Flach said he saw that happen in Ohio.

“If you are going to stop the smoking, make it statewide like they did,” Flach said.

He noted that the Moose donates $60,000 to $70,000 to the Columbus community annually. But he cautioned that if the smoking ordinance is passed, he’ll lose members and the Moose will not be able to donate as much.

Flach estimated that with such a change, Moose membership in Columbus would drop from 2,800 to less than 1,000.

Proposed smoking ordinance

The Columbus City Council is considering passing a local smoking ordinance that would be more prohibitive than state law, which Columbus currently follows. The ordinance under consideration would follow the state law but would remove the state’s exemptions for:

  • Bars/taverns
  • Private clubs
  • Horse-racing facilities
  • Horse-racing satellite facilities
  • Casinos
  • Riverboats
  • Retail tobacco stores
  • Cigar and hookah bars
  • Cigar-manufacturing facilities
  • Cigar specialty stores
  • A business owner’s private residence which is used for a place of business
  • The proposed local ordinance also would prohibit:
  • Smoking in all outdoor restaurant dining areas; smoking would be permitted eight feet and beyond the dining areas.
  • Smoking in all outdoor city transit waiting areas; smoking would be permitted eight feet and beyond the waiting areas.

Other council actions

On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council:

  • Approved a $573,400 tax abatement for Advanced Mold and Engineering, 7980 S. International Drive.
  • The company, which makes plastic injection molds, will use the abatement to buy computer and logistical equipment, which will help the company grow and hire one more employee.
  • Corrected a previous abatement granted to Woodland Associates for the property in Woodside Northwest Park on International Drive, where a $15 million plant will be built for The Phoenix Group, a supply chain company. A change was made to reflect the correct name, Woodside Associates.
  • Granted a tax abatement to The Phoenix Group for the equipment it will purchase for the plant.
  • Initially approved the rezoning of four parcels at 1207 and 1225 Central Ave. from residential single family to residential multi-family, with a maximum height of two stories and 12 rental units for any apartments built on the land. A second approval is required.
  • Granted an initial annexation and rezoning of a parcel of land at 6105 S. County Road 300W, in Wayne Township, so it could be used for The Phoenix Group plant project. A second approval is required.

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