KOKOMO – Smoking will soon be banned in all Kokomo and Howard County bars, taverns and private clubs following the approval Monday night of smoke-free legislation by the Howard County Board of Commissioners and Kokomo Common Council.
After the commissioners voted unanimously early Monday evening to pass an ordinance establishing a county-wide smoking ban with few exceptions, the Kokomo Common Council passed a resolution allowing the county ordinance to supersede city code by a 5-4 margin.
Effectively, the resolution ensures the city cooperates with any federal, state or county legislation that has “more restrictive anti-smoking guidelines than Kokomo’s current ordinance,” and allows Kokomo and Howard County to enter into an interlocal agreement.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight is expected to sign the interlocal agreement sometime Tuesday, after which it will be sent to the county.
This means the county ordinance will apply to establishments within Kokomo city limits.
The legislation will go into effect April 1, except for bars, private clubs and the ordinance’s outdoor requirements, which have until July 1 to come into compliance.
Voting in favor of the council’s resolution were Tom Miklik - the resolution’s sponsor – President Bob Hayes, Cindy Sanders, Steve Whikehart and Janie Young. Voting against were Vice President Mike Kennedy, Donnie Haworth, Bob Cameron and Mike Wyant.
Wyant created a stir near the end of the meeting when he asked smoking ban proponents to stand up if they would start visiting bars that now allow smoking. After a large group stood, opponents of the resolution began to laugh and holler, requiring Hayes to bang the gavel.
Kokomo first passed its smoke-free ordinance in 2006, with exemptions for tobacco outlets, bars and taverns and fraternal organizations. Additionally, a statewide smoking ban went into effect in July 2012 that prohibited smoking in all public places, with similar exemptions, and 8 feet from an entrance.
The new legislation reverses those exemptions. Exemptions now exist only for private residences - unless used as a licensed child care, adult day care or health care facility - and retail tobacco stores.
The new smoking ban also includes an E-cigarette ban and prohibits smoking at outdoor events, festivals and concerts at city parks, which eliminates secondhand smoke and the time volunteers spend picking up cigarette butts, noted Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman.
Additionally, the smoking ban applies to establishments in Greentown and Russiaville. It also states “smoking shall be prohibited in all enclosed areas of places of employment without exception.”
During the meeting, Miklik spoke on the need for Howard County, ranked in the lower half of health rankings for Indiana’s 92 counties, to embrace a healthier community and a more equal business climate.
“I have confidence in the bar owners; I have confidence in all of us if we have a level playing field,” he said. “If we pick and choose who can and who cannot, then what you’ve done is you’ve made it an unequal playing field.
“My thought is: leadership is doing those things that are difficult to do to impact change for the good of everyone in the community, because we represent all of you. Not just a few.”
Just prior to those comments, Wyant said he believed some bars would go out of business and drew issue with the idea that bar employees require protection from secondhand smoke.
“I’ve never, never had one waitress, bartender complain to me about the smoking in the bars,” he said. “I’ve never had one complain to me, so I’m here supporting you guys and these bar owners.”
In 2014, the council voted down various amendments to its smoke-free ordinance, which would have banned smoking tobacco in bars, taverns and social clubs, and the use of E-cigarettes in all enclosed public establishments.
After passing the amendments by a 5-4 margin on first reading, the same ordinance was voted down 5-4 on second reading after then-Common Council member Kevin Summers changed his vote.
However, Summers was replaced by council member Steve Whikehart in the 2015 election, and Whikehart served as the swing vote for smoking ban proponents Monday night.
“I think a lot of us who were in the midst of this didn’t get very good sleep because the last thing we want to do is be detrimental to someone’s business, but there’s a lot to be said for what the long term positive effects could be for the community,” said Whikehart.
Some local bar owners expressed frustration with Whikehart, who conveyed support during 2015 election debates for “compromise” in a potential smoking ban, including a grandfather clause permitting current establishments to allow smoking until they changed ownership, name or location.
At the time, Whikehart also proposed that public parks become smoke-free, which was included in the county ordinance.
The Elbow Room owner Jeannine Welcher referenced Whikehart’s statements at the start of the council meeting, and after the vote the councilman defended his position in favor of Monday’s resolution, saying he brought up the compromise in private meetings, to no avail.
“We didn’t vote on a compromise. The compromise wasn’t here; it wasn’t a part of it,” he said. “Even as we had discussions with both groups…what we found is that there was no room for compromise, and so at that point it became an up or down vote for a comprehensive smoking ban that was initiated by the county commissioners.
“It became either I do nothing or I do what I believe is right for the community, and that’s to endorse a comprehensive smoking ban,” he added later.
Many bar owners, employees and local veterans spoke out at both meetings, saying they felt their personal and professional rights were being infringed upon by the governmental bodies.
Some also expressed concerns that the smoking ban could negatively impact business by driving smokers away from their establishments. Others questioned the decision to include E-cigarettes or vaping into the legislation, saying the products help people quit smoking and claiming they don’t lead to serious health ramifications.
John Meeks, commander of VFW Post 1152, was one who spoke about his disagreement with the ban at the commissioners’ meeting.
“If there is a business in our community that you don’t care for, you don’t like, you have that freedom of choice not to give them one dime of your money,” he said, noting that he represents 725 veterans, many of whom have been highly decorated.
“But in this ordinance, you are wanting to take the right away from the business owner and the members of organizations to operate their business if they see fit.”
Meeks said he thought it was “totally wrong” to tell veterans that they can't smoke in their own club.
After the vote, Welcher, whose bar was well-represented at Monday’s meetings, painted a bleak future for local establishments.
“I think a lot of us will be in trouble,” she said. “Definitely initially, a lot of people aren’t going to come to the bars. They’re going to stay at home, especially with it coming into effect July 1. That’s a slow time for bars anyway, so that’s only going to hurt us.
“A few bars will certainly go out of business. There’s a few that’s on the bubble now and this will definitely shut their doors. They talked about free choice in there, but there’s only choice for them. Not choice for everybody else.”
Welcher also discussed what she believes was an effort by local officials to pass the legislation as quickly as possible. Specifically, a city resolution only takes one reading, whereas an ordinance takes two.
During the commissioners’ meeting, however, Susan Sciame-Giesecke - chancellor of Indiana University Kokomo, board chair of the Family Services Association and chair of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance – presented the board with data she said should dispel any concerns about negative economic impact.
Examples used by Sciame-Giesecke included a review done by the National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization in 2016 that stated evidence “clearly demonstrates that smoke-free policies do not cause adverse economic outcomes for businesses, including restaurants or bars.”
The review went on to say they often have a positive economic impact.
Another was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study done in 2013 about the economic impact of smoke-free laws in restaurants and bars in nine states, including Indiana, which effectively found that “smoke-free laws did not have an adverse economic impact on restaurants or bars in any of the states studied.”
During the commissioners’ meeting, Wyman said the board, Breathe Easy Howard County and another unnamed state organization are working to commit $15,000 - $5,000 each - that would fund a publicity campaign to ease the transition for local establishments.