Carmel residents and city council members are split on whether to ban smoking at bars and private clubs.
Several elected officials and members of the public spoke for and against the proposal at a June 26 meeting of the city council’s finance, utilities and rules committee.
In April the council began reviewing the city’s smoking ordinance to consider adding a ban of vaping in places where smoking is already prohibited, a change strongly supported by councilors and the community. But at a June 10 meeting the committee proposed expanding the scope of where smoking is banned, in large part to protect the health of employees at those establishments.
City councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider, a restaurant owner who said he would recuse himself from voting if the comprehensive ban progresses to the city council, said it doesn’t make sense to support the bill based on protecting employee health because retail tobacco stores would be exempt and their workers still exposed to smoke.
Rider said he despises smoking and is personally in favor of the comprehensive ban but doesn’t believe it’s the council’s job to prohibit a legal activity that people can choose to avoid.
“You’ve got to be careful taking away choice. Where does it stop?” he said. “Alcohol, if abused, is probably as bad for you as tobacco, but a glass of red wine at the end of the night – doctors will tell you that’s good.”
City Councilor Ron Carter, who said he smoked more than two packs of cigarettes a day before quitting the habit, said he supports expanding the smoking ban, as only three bars and clubs in Carmel still allow it. He said declining to approve the change would be catering to these entities and that he doesn’t buy the argument that expanding the ban would hurt their business.
“I really don’t believe that, and I don’t know that they do either,” Carter said. “If smoking is the only thing that they have going for their business that differentiates them from all of their competition, maybe the business isn’t that viable anyway.”
Councilor Jeff Worrell said he initially thought expanding the smoking ban was a good idea but is still deciding how he will vote.
“We have three businesses here that made a decision based on the rules at the time when Carmel put its smoking ban in place (in 2006), and now we are going to change that on them without any warning,” he said. “I can see there are a large number of people who would be immediately affected from those three bars who enjoy whatever they do at those three establishments. It isn’t what I do, but I don’t believe it is my place to say that they can’t do that.”
Carmel resident Duncan Wilson said he collected 140 signatures in 72 hours against banning smoking in bars and private clubs and turned to the U.S. Declaration of Independence to support his position.
“My pursuit of happiness is enjoying a cigar with a drink down at the bar with my friends,” he said. “I’m also a Vietnam era veteran, so I’ve put in my time to defend this country and the Constitutional rights we have. There are not rights anywhere that say you have the right to be 100 percent comfortable. Sometimes I’m behind somebody who has doused themselves in perfume and I want to choke on it.”
Amy Lutz, a Hamilton County resident who said she frequently shops in Carmel, said she lost both parents to smoking-related lung cancer in 2014 and found out last week – much to her dismay – that her daughter had tried vaping. She urged the council to take a stronger stand against smoking.
“The next generation needs more role models to show that smoke-free is the only way to live,” she said.
The committee plans to meet again to consider discussing the issue before the council’s July 15 meeting and likely vote.