Indiana has nation’s 2nd highest smoking rate

Indiana has the second highest smoking rate in the nation, with more than one in four Hoosier adults lighting up last year, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indiana, which has no statewide smoking ban, was sixth-worst in the nation in 2007. Though the national rate of cigarette smokers decreased by about 1 percent between 2006 and 2007, Indiana and Illinois each saw increases last year. Indiana’s rates are higher than Illinois, which has smoking bans in place and has the 13th-highest state smoking rate.

“There’s less harassment of smokers in Indiana than there is in other states,” said Samuel Flint, interim dean of Indiana University Northwest’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Indiana has more of a tradition of personal freedoms than public safety. That is what is competing.”

One way to reduce smoking in Indiana could be a state law prohibiting smoking indoors.

“If smoking gets to be more expensive and there are fewer places to do it, it pushes the marginal smoker to quitting,” Flint said.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, told The Times he plans to introduce a statewide public smoking ban proposal when the General Assembly convenes in January.

The House approved a smoking ban last session, but the measure died in the Senate. That proposal would have banned smoking in restaurants and most workplaces, but it was amended to exempt most bars, tobacco shops, private clubs and casinos.

Brown said his new proposal will exempt casinos from the beginning in hopes of getting it passed.

“They were the strongest opposers last year. They paid everyone out in the hall to track that for them to make sure nothing went in,” Brown said, describing the lobbying tactics.

In the GOP-led Senate, anti-smoking proponents refused to support a smoking ban with so many exemptions, while other senators were concerned about the effects of a smoking ban on Hoosier businesses.

“Studies have shown a business going smoke-free will not lose any revenue or customers as a result of that,” Brown said. “But that’s the hue and cry here, that we don’t want to negatively impact a business.”

But for Round The Clock restaurant in Schererville, customers were not happy when management discussed making the location smoke-free, said George Guirgus. He is the manager of the Highland location that already has gone smoke-free. The Schererville location kept its smoking and nonsmoking sections.

“Fifty percent of our customers there smoke,” said Giurgus, 42. “We do not like to upset our customers, so we don’t want to change (that) location to smoke-free before the government changes it. If the state changed it, we agree with it.”

The transition from smoking to nonsmoking went smoothly this month for Aurelio’s Pizza in Schererville. Owner David Scheidt, 36, said he lost some business from smokers but also attracted more nonsmokers.

“It’s pretty much evened out,” Scheidt said. “I think in the long run it will serve us better.”

Scheidt said if the state does not pass a smoking ban, cities and towns are going to enact their own bans such as Crown Point did last year. He said he banned smoking in the restaurant because it’s a family dining spot.

“When you have a section where people are smoking 10 feet from an infant, it was pretty much a no-brainer for us,” he said.

But some smokers, including 31-year-old Doug Domberg, say the government should think twice before banning smoking.

“To tell me I can’t smoke in any public place is wrong,” said Domberg, who manages CDO Tobacco in Highland. “(Nonsmokers) can have their section, but they can’t take away all my sections.”

Domberg said the store, which serves about 200 customers each day, opened a smoking lounge last year to offer smokers a place to enjoy cigars and cigarettes indoors.

“A lot of people always complain about having to go outside to smoke,” Domberg said. “You already have restaurants who say you can’t smoke there. (Smokers) can’t smoke unless they’re at their house, and even then their wives will still give them crap.”

The lounge offers wireless Internet service, couches, a refrigerator and television. Domberg deemed it the “coffeehouse of cigars.”

If the state were to ban smoking in public places, Domberg said he would put up a “members only” sign.

“To have that luxury — especially with cigar smokers — they’ll have no problem paying something small so they can sit and smoke their cigar in peace and not get hassled,” Domberg said, describing how many patrons bring coffee or sandwiches to the lounge.

The lounge has a filter that sucks in smoky air and releases clean air, and Domberg said it makes the store air cleaner than unfiltered air in a nonsmoking area.

With or without air filters, Domberg said he has not had any smoke-related health problems in the more than 13 years he has smoked.

“Fast food is going to kill you faster than smoking will,” he said.

Scientific reports on the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke gave states the authority to ban smoking, Flint, the IUN dean said, especially when concerning people who work at smoking establishments.

“Those are the folks who are victimized by allowing smoking in enclosed places,” Flint said. “Employees don’t have the luxury of choice.”

Staff writer Dan Carden contributed to this report.

Indiana Smoking Statistics

26.1 percent of Hoosier adults smoked last year

24.1 percent of Hoosier adults smoked in 2007

55.7 percent of Hoosier smokers had on average 15 to 25 cigarettes a day in 2000

Indiana has no statewide ban on smoking, leaving that decision to local government.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking Health

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