Elkhart possibly changing city's smoking ban

Published: Jan. 25, 2018 at 7:48 PM EST
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Changes could be coming to the Elkhart smoking ordinance after the mayor requested a one-time amendment to accommodate an upcoming performance at the Lerner Theater.

On Monday, Mayor Tim Neese said the Common Council voted to change the city's smoking ban for comedian Ron White, who is set to perform on February 1.

White is known to smoke a cigar as part of his comedy act.

In addition to the amendment for White, council members, according to Neese, "allowed tentatively bars and taverns to allow smoking in the City of Elkhart, if in fact the owner permits it."

Of the second change, Neese responded: "I’m still assessing, acquiring information, and looking at the various options that exist."

Meanwhile, Neese said he has received several calls and e-mails, including one from the American Lung Association, opposing the council's vote to allow bars and taverns to choose whether or not patrons can smoke.

"Again, nothing is definitive at this point," said Neese, who has the veto power.

The news has places like United Cancer worried.

"It's not just about your health, it's also about quality of life," said executive director Peter Norton.

Norton said 77 percent of Hoosiers don't smoke.

"Really businesses are catering to the vast majority of their clientele with a smoking ban in place," Norton said.

New Paradigm Burger and Brew House owner Brandon Stanley agrees.

"Honestly my first thought was it's business as usual here," Stanley said. "It isn't going to change anything for us. We are and we will remain a non smoking establishment."

The bar was remodeled under a previous owner back in 2006 to change to smoke free ahead of the 2008 city ban. Back then people were concerned the ban would hurt business.

"They were convinced that when it happened that it was going to be a death sentence for every bar in town," said Stanley. "They were convinced that all of the business was going to go to the county or to the other cities that and more relaxed laws."

He said the long term effects of the ban have been positive both financially and physically.

"I think more long term you see people more willing to come out to a bar that wouldn't normally come out because they know they don't have to go home smelling like an ash tray," Stanley said.

He's glad to have the ability to decide whether or not to allow smoking.

"I think lifting the ban is a good thing because it should be left up to us if it should be left up to our discretion," Stanley said. "I think for those of us who have functioning, thriving restaurants you're not going to see a change."

Stanley said it's more likely you would see smoking welcome back at bars not known for or that don't serve food.

Council President Brian Dickerson said if they made an exception for this act, they would have to do it all of the time. He said that gives the government an unfair advantage and that it should be up to the bar and tavern owners to decide.

Neese adds he has asked the Elkhart Common Council for a vote of reconsideration.

"Yes, I did send an e-mail to the council on Tuesday, the day after the meeting, asking for a motion to reconsider, and that’s self-explanatory. They then would reconsider the decision to repeal it. Then, they would take another vote," explained Neese.

Neese said it's likely he will decide whether or not to accept the council's vote "very soon," adding he thinks it would have been better if there had been more public input and advertisement about the Monday vote.

The mayor's office said Neese is consulting with legal counsel.

This hasn't gone into effect yet. Neese will need to sign it or veto it. If he opposes it, the council could override him with a 6-3 vote.

Neese told NewsCenter 16 that he typically has 10 days to make a decision. Ron White is performing 11 days after the council's recommendation.

On Thursday, Bryan Hannon, chairman of the Tobacco Free Indiana coalition, issued the following statement:

“Ten years ago, Elkhart passed a smoke-free ordinance that protected the health of workers and positioned the city as a public health leader. Today, an ordinance sits on Mayor Neese’s desk that would undo those protections, weaken the city’s image and potentially expose workers to deadly secondhand smoke. After a decade of healthier work environments in Elkhart, it’s a bad idea to turn back the clock and force employees to decide between a paycheck and their health. It’s an especially bad idea when it’s done without a robust public discussion. As more Indiana cities are taking steps to make their communities healthier and more livable, this ordinance represents a big step backward for the city of Elkhart and we strongly urge Mayor Neese to veto the ordinance.”