Tag Archives: smoking ban

What is Ballard Smoking?

When the dust cleared after the November elections, Indianapolis was left with divided city government. The Mayor is Republican. The Council majority is Democrat. The challenge for the next four years will be to get along–to make decent policy despite partisan divisions.

An article in this morning’s Star suggests we’re not getting off to an auspicious start.

Indianapolis has been struggling for several months to enact a smoking ban that actually has some teeth. After a couple of false starts, the Council has  produced a (bipartisan!) draft, to be voted on tonight. But according to the Star, 

“The proposal’s effect on veterans halls and private clubs has become a focal point of debate and has raised the likelihood of a mayoral veto.

As written, the proposal would give those places an exemption from the smoking ban but only with a hard choice: Keep smoking, or allow children on the premises. But not both.

Mayor Greg Ballard said Friday through a spokesman that unless the council removes the restriction on children tonight, he will veto the measure. That statement was his most forceful yet since the council resumed the years-old smoking ban debate two months ago.”

When Ballard first ran for Mayor, he promised to support a smoking ban. When actually faced with an earlier iteration, he withdrew that support, and he’s been a roadblock ever since. The question is: why? The current compromise protects children from the documented health hazards of secondhand smoke, while still allowing adults in private clubs to smoke. That seems entirely reasonable. But my question goes well beyond the merits of this particular ordinance.

If he is to achieve any of his goals, Ballard will have to be strategic in his relationship with the City-County Council. He will have to choose his fights carefully. Is this really an issue on which he wants to spend his small store of political capital? Is the American Legion’s pique so important that he’s willing to start the new term with a fight that will further divide the branches of local government and further diminish the prospects for cooperation?

Wrong on policy, wrong on process, and politically short-sighted. Welcome to the start of a long four years.

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.


To Your Health…..

Federalism has many virtues, but it also makes some problems more difficult to solve. I don’t care how much your local city council cares about air pollution, there isn’t a whole lot they–or even your state legislature, assuming you have a more enlightened one than we do here in Indiana–can do about it. Health policies likewise tend to require state or national action; there isn’t a lot that local communities can do.

But there are some things we can do locally, and there really isn’t any excuse for failing to do them. Cities and states can encourage healthy lifestyles and physical fitness by providing well-tended parks, by increasing bike lanes, and by banning smoking in public places. These measures not only promote public health, they ultimately save money by reducing Medicaid and similar costs.

The Ballard Administration has at least responded to calls for additional bike lanes (although those downtown, where I live, are considerably less than optimal–the ones on New York Street were evidently painted by someone who was drunk or otherwise seriously incapacitated). Otherwise, not so much. Far from expanding opportunities for recreation, our parks have been shamefully neglected. And worst of all, Ballard has consistently blocked efforts to ban smoking in public places.

The Mayor’s refusal to honor his campaign promise to sign a smoking-ban ordinance is particularly galling, not just because he did a 180-degree turn on the issue once he was elected, but because smoking bans are a low-cost, highly effective way to improve public health.

There are essentially two arguments against smoking bans. Bar owners worry that business will suffer if customers cannot smoke in their establishments. Other opponents of the bans argue that no one has to patronize a bar or restaurant–that if smoke bothers you, you can just go somewhere else.  The evidence from other cities that have passed these bans should comfort the bar owners–far from diminishing, in many places business actually improved when nonsmoking customers weren’t assaulted by the smell of  “eau de stale cigarette.” And the argument about choice ignores the very real health hazard smoking poses for employees. (When asked about the impact on workers, Mayor Ballard dismissed employees as “transients” whose health clearly was not a concern.)

Hint: Telling hard-working waiters and bartenders that they should just get another job if smoke bothers them ignores the realities of the current job market, among other things.

Cities are in a world of fiscal hurt right now. At a time when there isn’t money to do many of the things that would improve our neighborhoods, a smoking ban is a virtually cost-free way to improve public health and make our public spaces more pleasant at the same time. Polls show an overwhelming majority of residents favoring such a ban, and in fact, when he ran for Mayor, Ballard supported the policy.

All of this makes the Mayor’s current, stubborn opposition hard to understand. If he has reasons for his abrupt about-face, he has yet to articulate them.