Indiana is on the brink of enacting what is a somewhat toothless smoking ban that exempts bars and taverns.

The state Senate voted 28-22 on Friday to approve the smoking ban, which exempts bars, taverns, casinos, cigar and hookah bars, tobacco shops, private clubs and cigar manufacturers.

Some of those exemptions make sense. Why patronize, for example, a hookah bar unless you wanted to smoke? But is the health of bar employees worth less than the lives of restaurant employees? Or government workers, for that matter.

The bill was co-sponsored by state Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion, who came out against the gutting of the bill and said he wanted most exemptions removed.

"We want the minimum number of exemptions and the maximum number of locations that are smoke-free," Turner said.

Indiana was once considered to be controlled by insurance companies, many of which are headquartered in Indianapolis.

You'd think the insurance lobby would be pushing an exemption-free bill heavily, but there is a relatively new 500-pound gorilla in the room — the state's casinos.

They want to be exempt from the smoking ban, and the compromise reached allowed that. Apparently the lives and health of their workers is worth comparatively less than that of, say, government employees.

Government buildings in Indiana restrict smoking to segregated places or make a smoker step outside for a puff.

Again, I do not begrudge the right of any adult to smoke a legal product, and I'd even like to see some of the illegal product decriminalized.

Want to smoke tobacco? Want to bogart that joint my friend? I'm all right with that.

But don't do it to the detriment of other people's health. The needs of the many go before the needs of the few, and only 22 percent of Hoosiers smoke.

"I don't know whether I can sign (off on the bill) with all those bars in there," state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, the bill's chief sponsor, said prior to its passage.

"I think it will be very difficult to get those bars out if we pass something this year with the bars in there."

He is correct. Once it's been locked in, as it looks like it's going to be, it will likely stay in.

I'm not sure I follow the logic of those who say if you don't like smoking, stay out of the place.

Following that train of thought, we can come to a conclusion that if you don't want tacos made out of dogs and cats, stay out of certain restaurants. I am not sure the state or county boards of health see things the same way.

In a display of bipartisanship, Brown and Turner are trying to pull Indiana into the 21st century.

I guess half a loaf is better than none, as the old saying goes, but I hope Brown and Turner will not give up their fight to make Indiana a safer place for all its workplaces.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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