FORT WAYNE – In 2007, Fort Waynes smoking ban drew heated opposition, a lawsuit and pledges of outright disobedience.
Yet five years later, compliance has been relatively simple and even political opponents say there is no going back.
The citys ban took effect five years ago today after the majority of the City Council and then-Mayor Graham Richard agreed the dangers of secondhand smoke trumped the rights of individual business owners to make that decision for their employees and customers.
City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, was the major author of that legislation. He said that over time most people have come to like the rules but admitted he will never win over everybody.
Theres still a whole lot of people who will hate me forever, he said.
But the claims that the ban would kill the bar and tavern industry in the city were unfounded, he said. Although he admitted some individual places teetering on failure might have been pushed over the edge by the smoking ban, in general it didnt keep people from going out to eat or drink.
And the only available statistics support Crawfords claim. Allen County charges a 1 percent tax on restaurant and bar bills. Revenues from that tax actually went up slightly in the year after the ban, dropped during the height of the recession and rebounded in subsequent years. The last full year of data since the ban shows revenues at $5.6 million, up more than 8 percent compared with the year before the citys smoking ban. Revenue from the past 11 months already exceed the totals from the year before the ban.
The statistics dont distinguish spending in Fort Wayne from that in New Haven, however, and opponents have previously argued it doesnt paint the entire picture. These trends, however, match similar taxes in Indianapolis and statewide totals, showing the changes are more aligned with the economy than smoking rules.
Thats always the way its been in every jurisdiction thats been tested, Crawford said. Total aggregate in sales goes up.
Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, was one of the strongest opponents to the citys ban, saying businesses should have been given the choice to go smoke-free on their own. He said some businesses closed after the ban took effect, although he added there were other variables involved in those decisions, such as the states crackdown on illegal gambling machines and the recession.
I think most people have adjusted to the smoking ban, he said. Theres still people that complain about it. They deal with the situation thats been dealt.
Didier said the laws have meant at least one good thing for the community: an expansion of outdoor dining options. City rules allow people to smoke in enclosed patios as long as the tables are at least 8 feet from the door. Smokers must be 20 feet from a businesses entrance doors, however.
Five years into the local smoking ban and Jim Murua barely hears anything about it.
The city fire marshal has been the face of enforcement of the citys smoking ban, but he admits that has become a small part of his job.
I think weve got a good handle on it, he said. We dont get many complaints anymore.
In fact, there hasnt been much enforcement work since the start of the ban. Only 75 tickets under the smoking rules have been issued, according to the city clerks office. The majority of those, Murua, said occurred in the first few years of the ban.
City rules require businesses that break the ban to be given an initial warning, which are not included in the ticket totals.
Anymore, most of the places are trying to comply or have complied, Murua said.
Fire crews typically respond to complaints about the smoking ban, but Murua said they have been so infrequent the city got rid of its complaint hotline. Now people are asked to call 311 to report a violation.
He said his crews still do random enforcement checks – typically quarterly – where inspectors are sent to bars during the evening hours to check for violations. He said places that have had compliance issues in the past typically get included in the random checks.
The smoking ban drew heavy political fire during the 2007 elections, enough to help oust Crawford from office and to spur a call for a repeal of the rules.
That repeal effort, however, was easily thwarted, and even critics say the law is here to stay.
Didier said he doesnt see any way for the rules to be reversed. In fact, he said it is more likely that the state will enact tougher smoking rules in the next five to 10 years.
Its inevitable, he said.
Crawford said he was disappointed the state didnt simply mimic the citys ban with its new rules. He agreed with Didier that it will eventually enact stricter smoking laws, but by waiting it will force legislators to go through the fight a second time. He said the evidence is clear that secondhand smoke is a danger to people and must be regulated.
While no studies were done locally to see whether heart attacks or other issues diminished with the smoking rules, the Indiana State Department of Health did release results of air quality testing.
It found the average level of fine-particle indoor air pollution declined 94 percent after the citys ban took effect. Full-time employees average annual exposure in bars to this pollution was more than five times the annual limit before the ban, according to the study.
After the rules, the same workers were exposed to a level of pollution considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Even bar owners outside the city see the rules as being inevitable. Greg Jacquay, owner of Trion Tavern in New Haven, said that after the state rules were approved that exempted bars, you didnt hear a lot of local places going to the city to ask for the same exemption. That means the rules are just accepted, he said. He asks patrons whether they smoke in their own homes, to which almost all respond no.
We dont like breathing our own smoke, let alone someone elses smoke, said Jacquay, whose bar goes smoke-free today.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, whose smoking ban stance can be best described as ambivalent in 2007, said he believes people have adjusted to the rules. Many people felt smoking rules should have been market-driven, said Henry, whose wife owns the Green Frog bar. He said it is unlikely that the rules will be relaxed, however, especially now that the state is implementing some.
Weve come too far, he said. Were not going back.