What’s He Smoking?

I concluded yesterday’s blog by asking what Ballard is smoking. That reference to smoking rather naturally led some Facebook friends to raise the issue of the smoking ban–the one Ballard supported when he was a candidate, and refuses to support now that he’s Mayor, arguable pissing off people on all sides of the debate.

I’m pretty libertarian; I don’t think the government has the right to prohibit people from smoking either tobacco or marijuana. But I do support the smoking ban (and I’d support a ban on smoking marijuana in public places), for several reasons.

1) The health of workers (not customers). No worker should have to choose between health and a paycheck, and let’s not pretend that those working in bars can just walk away and get another job. Not in this economy.  Mayor Ballard says those who work in restaurants and bars are “transients.” I know some people who’ve worked in the same establishments for 20+ years, but even if these workers do move around, is Ballard saying the life and health of “transients” aren’t a concern?

2) Believe it or not, there is a sound economic development argument for smoking bans. Indiana and Indianapolis are falling behind the rest of the nation, the rest of the world and major cities everywhere – convention cities, NFL cities, NBA cities, etc. Among our immediate neighbors, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio are all smokefree. We’re the ashtray of the Midwest, and if we don’t clean it up, we’re going to lose convention business–not to mention some long-term businesses that don’t want to pay higher “sick-Hoosier” health insurance costs. Which brings me to

3)  A smoking ban will lower health-care costs. What my friend Bruce Hetrick calls “the three-legged stool”–smoke-free workplace laws, FDA regulation of tobacco companies, and higher cigarette taxes–is the most effective way to encourage people to quit smoking. Getting people to quit lowers health-care costs for individuals and those who fund their health care.

By itself, this last argument would not be sufficient–there are lots of things we might do to lower healthcare costs that the government cannot require. But given the overwhelming evidence of the harm done by passive smoke and the competitive disadvantage caused by our failure to act, it’s worth noting that doing the right thing has its benefits.


  1. Sheila, I agree with you about the smoking ban. Even smaller towns and cities in Indiana have managed to pass public smoking bans without any demonstrable adverse effect–why can’t Indianapolis? However, you lost me at reason 3.

    Indiana is still one of the least healthy, least active states by most measures so I’m not convinced that health care costs will be lowered by an appreciable amount, as many of those savings will probably be offset by the increased costs of our already unhealthy population potentially living longer and using more resources.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am 1) a non-smoker who grew up in a smoking household ; 2) a person who at times dislikes going out because I hate smelling like an ashtray in the morning; 3) supports FDA regulations and increased sin taxes and 4) owns several hundred shares of a tobacco company.

  2. Sheila,

    We already have a smoking ban in Indianapolis. The compromise works well. If you allow anyone in your bar under 18, you can’t have smoking.

    There is ample choice for consumers, owners and workers. Show me one person who is “stuck” working in a smoke-filled environment and I will have them a new job in less than a week.

    Also, your total ban would put Nicky Blaine’s and the Indy Cigar Bar out of business since 40-50% of their business is cigars consumed on sight.

    If you guys really wanted to have an impact you would ban smoking in homes where there are children because they have no choice but to be exposed to secondhand smoke.

    Meet me at Nicky’s, I’ll buy the cigar.

  3. Thank you for your excellent points. I wholeheartedly agree with all three. To Abdul’s points, I’d prefer to have a few businesses whose sales are reduced (I’m not saying out of business) in turn for protecting the health of all workers.

    In time, businesses would learn to adjust their business models and customers would adjust to taking their cigarettes/cigars/etc outside. We’re so reluctant to change but this should be a no-brainer.

    It wasn’t that many years ago that smoking was allowed in my former office building. Why can’t we extend that privilege to all workers? I may work in an office setting but that doesn’t mean I’m more valuable than a worker in a bar.

  4. Interestingly, I had lunch at a north side bar with an old friend who eats there frequently. The bar went smoke-free in February, and my friend said the owner was sure he’d lose business, and was really uptight about it. Instead, business has improved–by a lot. He now posts banners announcing that he offers a smoke-free environment.

    Studies from other states seem to confirm this guy’s experience–while I’m sure someone has lost some business somewhere, research suggests that to be a rare consequence.

  5. Cigars are 40% of Nicky Blaine’s business. The same with the Indy Cigar Bar. And most of those cigars are consumed on site. A ban would put them out of business. By the way, the employees who work there all smoke cigars at one point in time and don’t mind the cigar smoke. But hey, at least they will get clean air in the unemployment line, right?

  6. Eileen, that’s a great point. If someone wants to own/operate a “cigar bar” then fine, let them be exempt from the law. But Abdul is absolutely ignorant for saying that he can replace the jobs of all workers who are employed at bars/restaurants that allow smoking in one week. Some of these workers enjoy the faculty & management for whom they work and the work that they do, and some are only qualified for that type of employment. Yes, they can go work at Wal-Mart; but can they make the same amount of money standing at a cash register that they can if they are behind the bar at Rock Lobster on a Saturday night, I doubt it. It’s not about the “job” it’s about the level of compensation. Also, I can’t give enough kudos to Sheila for point #2 of her argument, it’s just pathetic that the entire country will be focused on Indianapolis for the Superbowl–but we’ll be surrounded in a cloud of smoke. So sad.

  7. I am currently working on a paper on this very topic, so I re-visited this post to consider Prof. Kennedy’s thoughts. To those who say the workers who don’t like being exposed to secondhand smoke should go find other jobs, consider this: in ANY other workplace, I would be protected from hazardous materials. For instance: as a medical worker, when I enter the room of a person with tuberculosis, I am not expected to just go into the room and breathe the other person’s airborne toxins. My employer allows – and expects – me to take proper precautions to prevent myself from getting TB. I realize that bartenders aren’t going to start wearing HEPA-filter masks any time soon, but what I’m saying is that all employees of *any* organization should have the right to be protected from pollutants that can directly cause them harm.

  8. Sorry Jennifer, but that argument you made(workers in smoking environments are the ONLY workers supposedly subjected to hazardous conditions) is very laughable, and I can’t even begin to count all the holes popping up, as if I’m holding a slice of swiss cheese. What about the workers who work in welding factories, or in coal mines? I think ANY worker who works in an environment where indoor smoking is allowed knows what they’re getting into, and works there since they are tolerant of smoke exposure.

    Tell me then, why have MANY Indy and Marion County adult-only businesses, and bars and clubs on their own banned smoking in the last few years, without a local or state law telling them to do so? Or why only 1% of Indianapolis/Marion County businesses permit smoking? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather see smokers(both cigarette and cigar ones) have a limited number of indoor places they can indulge their habit, instead of risking increased exposure to others outside, plus to children inside a smoker’s home if that smoker can’t smoke almost anywhere other than his/her home. And for the love of god, if you don’t like a business’ smoking policy, let the manager know that is why you won’t return, and don’t patronize them till they change their policy. (it worked with the Fishers Cracker Barrel, and I think both Barley Island locations have now prohibited smoking)

  9. I didn’t say that they were the only ones, I’m simply using anecdotal examples to make a point.

  10. And furthermore, those factory/mine workers are much better protected than bartenders, etc. Yes, it’s true that there are other places to work that are dangerous, but those places at least take some measures to protect their employees – safety regulations, protective gear, etc. And I also take issue with your argument that public places to smoke will reduce smoking in the home…it’s a nice idea, but I don’t think that being able to smoke in a bar would prevent someone from lighting up at home.

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