Smokers would have to snub out their cigarettes before entering Evansville bars and restaurants under an amended smoking ban proposed by a City Councilman.
But patrons of Casino Aztar could continue puffing while they gamble.
Councilman Dan Adams, D-At Large, submitted the amendment today, saying he doesn’t think the city’s current ban does enough to protect the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
“Almost all of the major of cities have this,” he said. “This isn’t off the wall. This isn’t radical.”
But some worry a stricter ban will lessen their business’ ability to compete. Dan DiLegge, a co-owner of DiLegge’s restaurant, said he doesn’t understand why the city should allow any exemptions.
“I don’t have a problem with it if it’s for everybody,” he said. “Either everybody should do it or don’t do it.”
Adams said he kept the exemption for Aztar out of a fear that banning smoking at the local casino would cause it to lose patrons to competitors elsewhere.
“I don’t think it competes with other bars and restaurants in town,” he said. “It competes with other casinos.”
The City Council doesn’t plan to consider Adams’ amendment until it meets at 5:30 p.m. March 8 in Room 301 of the Civic Center. If passed then, the change would have to pass on two subsequent votes at the council’s March 15 meeting before becoming official.
According to the amendment, the stricter rules would take effect July 6.
Before getting there, the proposed changes must overcome the skepticism of several council members. Council President B.J. Watts, D-6th Ward, said he is hesitant to tighten Evansville’s smoking ban unless nearby counties express an intent to follow suit.
“I would hate to have us be an island out here, competing with surrounding counties under different rules,” he said.
Adams said he hopes Vanderburgh County officials will pass something similar to the tighter rules he proposes. Troy Tornatta, the president of the Vanderburgh County Commissioners, said he plans to watch Evansville’s handling of the issue closely.
“We would like to see the city go through that measure, and then the county would entertain being on the same playing field,” he said.
Under the current smoking ban, bars and taverns can let patrons smoke so long as they don’t admit anyone younger than 18. And restaurants can allow smoking in areas designated for that purpose, so long as they prohibit patrons and employees under 18 from entering those places.
Under Adams’ amendment, bars and restaurants could only allow smoking outdoors, in seating sections designated for that purpose. The proposed changes, meanwhile, keep in place exemptions allowing smoking in private vehicles, private residences, hotel rooms designated for smoking, tobacco stores and clubs.
Jerry Turner, the principal owner of Turoni’s Pizzery & Brewery, said he is worried about alienating patrons who smoke. He estimated that two-thirds of the space in his restaurants is set aside for nonsmokers.
The stricter ban now proposed would take away his right to run his business as he sees fit, he said.
“That’s someone else imposing their will on me,” he said.
In another change, Adams’ amendment would raise the limits on the penalties imposed on violaters of the smoking ban. On a first offense, a smoker would pay a fine of up to $100. For a second, the fine would be up to $200. It would rise to as much as $500 for every violation after that.
The current limit is $50 for a first violation. Subsequent violations carry penalties no less than $100 and no greater than $500. Restaurant or bar owners who violate the ban could also lose any permit or license issued them by the city.
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