News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

January 23, 2010

MARK BENNETT: If the heart of tobacco country can enact a statewide smoking ban, then why not Indiana?

TERRE HAUTE — Imagine the spread of change being plotted on a roadmap, and two guys unfolding it outside a desolate gas station.

(Yes, ladies, we do seek directions, occasionally. Then we choose whether to follow them.)

The guys can’t find Indiana on the roadmap of change, so they go inside to ask the attendant.

“Indiana?” he says. “You can’t get there from here.”

Sometimes, it seems as if change comes to Indiana last. Thus, if our unyielding history rules our thinking, anyone looking at another attempt by an Indiana lawmaker to get a statewide smoking ban through the General Assembly would have to honestly say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

This time, it could happen. And it should happen.

Why? Well, if North Carolina — the heart of tobacco country — can enact a statewide smoking ban, then it’s even possible right here in Indiana.

This month, public places in North Carolina went smokefree. The ban includes restaurants, bars and other hospitality businesses. We’re not talking California, Massachusetts or New York. North Carolina — the land that produced Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jesse Helms and nearly half of the tobacco Americans consume each year.

When North Carolina’s governor, Bev Perdue, signed the law last May, she said, “This is a historic day for North Carolina. By banning smoking in our restaurants and bars, we greatly reduce the dangers of secondhand smoke and lower health care costs for families.”

The Tar Heel State has joined 26 others with smokefree laws that cover bars and restaurants, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. (The laws in Michigan and Wisconsin go into effect in July, according to the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation agency.) All of Indiana’s neighboring states, except Kentucky — the No. 2 tobacco producer — have statewide public smoking laws. Florida, Idaho, Louisiana and Nevada ban smoking in restaurants, but exempt stand-alone bars. In November, South Dakotans will vote on a referendum to prohibit smoking in all workplaces.

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