Some Columbus city officials expressed hope this week that Bartholomew County government would join them in enacting a stronger smoking ban.
Sorry, no cigar, say top county officials.
“We are not inclined right now to enforce anything more aggressive than what the state has already done,” County Commissioners President Larry Kleinhenz said.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, a representative of the Tobacco Awareness Action Team claimed commissioner Carl Lienhoop was supportive of a comprehensive smoking ban.
On Thursday, Lienhoop said he did tell Stephanie Truly that in order to have an effective smoking ban, the playing field needs to be level and nobody should get an exclusion.
“But I also told this group that if you want to get on something, get on your state legislators to finish what they started,” Lienhoop said.
He added the county should not set a precedent of restricting individual freedoms.
“The mayor of New York City doesn’t want you to have a big soft drink,” Lienhoop said. “So where does it end? Can we guarantee it will end with smoking?”
Kleinhenz said enacting a countywide smoking ban goes against his basic understanding of government.
“If you do this, how do you not support a ban on soft drinks?,” Kleinhenz said.
“I would argue that alcohol kills more people and ruins more families. But right now, the popular thing is to go after smoking. And the people who get all excited about it can’t accomplish it themselves, so they want government to do it for them. Where do you stop it?”
County Council President Bill Lentz expressed concerns about how far the enforcement of a countywide smoking ban could be taken.
“Would I have to tell a man who works by himself in a welding shop in St. Louis Crossing that he can’t smoke?” Lentz asked.
“What about a farmer? Would I have to tell him he cannot smoke in his combine? Where do you stop or start on this?”
Retiring commissioner Paul Franke expects the Indiana General Assembly will revisit existing smoking restrictions within the next two years.
“If we write an ordinance, it will be subject to change to the state’s whims. So I don’t think we need to get into a hurry to get into a smoking-ban ordinance in the county.”
County attorney Grant Tucker said a fact that “tends to get lost in translation” is that the Indiana General Assembly already has a smoking ban in place.
“We’re only talking about a very few exceptions,” Tucker said.
“Now, somebody on the Columbus City Council decided that we should make ours more restrictive. OK, that’s their prerogative. But most people can’t smoke in most businesses in the county today, anyway.”
Kleinhenz described the efforts of the anti-smoking groups as impressive and said he feels they should continue to put pressure on business owners to make their facilities nonsmoking.
“But government should not be the bully pulpit to do something that every business owner can do for themselves,” Kleinhenz said.
“He doesn’t need an ordinance from the county commissioners. He can do it himself, and it won’t cost anybody anything, except for maybe a few signs.”