Elkhart smoking ban lift proposal won't solve original issue

Published: Jan. 26, 2018 at 4:40 PM EST
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It's lighting up a big debate.

that would allow bars and taverns to allow smoking in the city, if the owner permits it.

NewsCenter 16's Travis Robinson spoke to the council's vice president about how the measure came about and why the mayor's initial request wouldn't be legal.

It's definitely been a very confusing week.

This all started when the mayor asked the city to make an exception in the smoking ban for Ron White's comedy show on Thursday, because he likes to smoke cigars while performing.

But those with the city and county say the council can't do that.

Elkhart's smoking ban dates back to 2008, but the city still has a higher percentage of adult smokers than Indiana's average. The state didn't implement its smoking ban until 2012.

"We were progressive," Elkhart County Tobacco Control Coordinator Adrienne Thomas said. "We were ahead of the time, we didn't have a state law, so to have that city law go into effect, it was a huge time of celebration."

One decade later, the possibility of it being lifted for bars and taverns may come as a surprise for some.

But what's even more surprising is that the bill made it this far, especially when experts say it wasn't a legal solution.

They say Elkhart can't make an exception for Ron White's performance under Indiana House Enrolled Act No. 1149, the smoking ban from 2012.

The Lerner is considered a public place, meaning the state won't allow smoke in the building, and the city can't make an exception for state law.

"So there's no way that he could do this cigar act at all in Indiana?" our reporter asked Thomas.

"Unless he was in a bar or tavern or any of the exempt locations that allow smoking," Thomas said.

"Is there any way that the Lerner Theater could be considered a bar or tavern?" our reporter asked.

"No," Thomas responded.

Even if the smoking ban is entirely lifted, Ron White won't be able to do any act with a cigar.

Under state law, the Lerner Theater's owner could be charged with a Class B infraction with charges up to $1,000.

That begs the question, how did a request for an exemption turn into so much more?

Well, the answer would be personal politics.

"I'm always looking for ways to give back some of the property rights to private citizens," Elkhart City Council Vice President Adam Bujalski said. "If they own the property, they should be able to choose, and that's when this came up."

Bujalski said he saw his chance and took it to give control back to business owners, asking for the amendment. He says he doesn't think many owners will go back to smoking, but it's all about having the choice.

"I work in an industry where we don't smoke inside of our building," Bujalski said. "If we offered it, it would be my choice to go work for those employers. It's my choice as a private citizen to choose where I work, who I work for, and it should be the same as the private business owners to make the choice of how they handle their business."

The mayor's office said they're still looking into the issue and consulting with legal counsel.

We'll be checking back with the mayor's office next week for more information.