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Statewide smoking ban getting mixed reviews

– Indiana’s first statewide smoking ban is getting mixed reviews from business owners and customers six months after its restrictions took effect.

The law, which took effect July 1, bans smoking in most public places and requires that people stand 8 feet from an entrance before lighting up. But it has exceptions for bars, gambling facilities, cigar and hookah bars, tobacco retail stores and nonprofit private clubs such as fraternal and veterans organizations.

While some customers are delighted with local bars that have gone smoke-free, some business owners aren’t happy.

Under Indiana’s law, restaurants with bars can continue to permit smoking if they choose to allow only customers who are 21 or older. The bar must not be within a business where smoking could affect other patrons, such as a bar inside a hotel.

Phil Holub, co-owner of Sheffield’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Merrillville, told the Post-Tribune the ban has become a headache. Holub said he and his business partner decided to continue offering smoking at their Merrillville establishment, but made their Dyer location smoke-free.

Despite those two options, Holub said he feels the businesses are stuck on the losing end.

“I think it’s unfair to the businesses,” he said. “It’s the business’s responsibility to accommodate all customers, but now we have to choose.”

Holub initially planned to split both of his locations in half, with those divided establishments sharing only a kitchen. Patrons would have had to walk outside to go from the restaurant to the sports bar, where smoking would have been allowed.

“But we couldn’t even do that,” he said. “We would have to have two separate companies, with two separate kitchens and everything.”

He said that now, with his Dyer location having gone smoke-free, he loses on heating and cooling when customers step outside to smoke. And he loses out on younger customers in Merrillville, where smoking is still allowed and the under-21 crowd cannot enter.

But Jason Evans, the operator of Catch-22 in Merrillville, said his customers are adjusting, and it’s not hurting his bottom line.

“We get a lot of customers who are pleased that it’s not-smoking in the bar,” Evans said. “Even some of the smokers, they seem to be smoking a little less. It might be doing what it’s supposed to do, curtail people from smoking.”

A Fort Wayne ordinance closed exemptions for bars and private clubs.

Democratic State Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary, one of the top promoters of the statewide smoking ban, said he has heard from bar and tavern owners about their concerns. He said a more stringent smoking ban would level the playing field for all businesses and improve Hoosiers’ health.

Brown said he will continue to push for a more complete smoking ban in 2013.

“(Business owners) still maintain that those places with a combination of tavern and restaurants have lost customers,” he said. “But I think the solution is to have everything be smoke-free. That would be my dream.”

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