More From The Elkhart Truth About Smoking Ban

In State News on August 6, 2009 at 10:18 am

Elkhart City Council snuffs out smoking at bars

ELKHART — A line of more than 40 residents — a mix of bar owners and employees, health officials, anti-smoking proponents and regular citizens — came before the City Council on Monday night.

One side warned of impending job losses and shuttered businesses. The other pleaded for the council to protect the health of residents and workers.

In the end, the council voted down, 5-4, an amendment to a clean air ordinance that would allow smoking at Elkhart bars with valid liquor licenses that only serve customers 21 and older.

The council originally passed a citywide smoking ban in April 2008, after a compromise allowed a one-year exemption for bars that only served customers 21 and older. When that grace period ended May 16, bar owners said business dropped 30 percent or more almost immediately.

Council Vice President Dave Osborne surveyed 19 of the bars that received exemptions, and said 32 employees have been lost since May. Of the 111 employees remaining at the 19 bars, Osborne said 89 of them are smokers and 108 are against the smoking ban.

The council is working too hard to protect just a few more people, he said, and doing so at the expense of residents’ jobs and livelihoods.

“There’s a point of diminishing returns,” Osborne, D-1st, said. “We’ve reached that curve. We can’t get the whole pie, but we’re going to try for .004 more percent. Where’s the fairness?”

Some residents gave emotional testimony before the council, including Pam Weber, a 49-year-old single mom. Always a waitress, Weber said she’s looked for work elsewhere but can’t get hired. If the ban continues, she said she’ll be out of a job.

“The decision you make will not affect you,” she said. “But it will affect the rest of us in this line of work.”

Resident Dwight Fish, however, said he sees the smoking ban debate as a simple quality-of-life issue.

“We’re revisiting something we should not have been revisited,” he said. “We should have taken this ordinance and put it in concrete a year ago.”

Before the debate even began, Mayor Dick Moore told the council he planned to veto the ordinance if it passed. He said he believes a majority of the city supports the ban and the poor economy is the reason bar business has dropped.

“There is no correlation between a smoking ban in a public place and a downturn in business,” he said. “Other downturns are short-lived. I believe this one will be, too.”

Councilman David Henke, R-3rd, said the council has been hypocritical for granting tax phase-ins to bring companies to the area while ignoring employment losses at local bars.

“We are picking and choosing what jobs are acceptable to our city and what jobs are not,” Henke said. “But if you’re unemployed, any job is acceptable when it comes to feeding your families.”


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