County task force awaits final draft of smoking bill

Final version expected April 24; group surveyed citizens to cull opinions.

Legislation limiting smoking in restaurants could soon be finished and in the hands of Delaware County commissioners, according to a member of the Delaware County Smoking Task Force.

Lou Coulter, one of the task force members who helped draft the legislation, said he expects the task force, which was appointed by the commissioners, to approve its final draft at its April 24 meeting.

Under the current draft, any restaurant already established in Muncie would need to be smoke free or have an enclosed area with a separated ventilation system for smokers in five years.

Restaurants that have not commenced construction 60 days after the ordinance is passed would prohibit smoking completely, much to Coulter's surprise, who said he thought new restaurants would be allowed to have enclosed smoking areas.

"Evidently I was wrong about that," he said. "I think they're mistaken about that."

The task force met Tuesday for a two-hour meeting, in which they debated the wording of its proposal. This cut down the hopes of task force chairwoman Judith Roepke, also a Ball State dean emerita of continuing education, for the creation of a final copy.

Task force members Marshall Willis and Jim Mochal were particularly concerned about the definition of "restaurant."

The original draft dubbed a restaurant as any enclosed building offering food to be consumed on the premises to the public at a price.

The broad language of the legislation, however, made no distinction between a McDonald's and a tavern. As long as there was food to be purchased and eaten, the legislation read, a building could be considered a restaurant.

At the urging of Willis, the draft was rewritten to exclude, among other things, bowling alleys and restaurants that do not allow minors, including taverns.

There was some debate as to whether the definition could include a business that has vending machines, but the issue was not resolved.

Mochal also said he was concerned about costs restaurants could incur because of inevitable remodeling.

If the legislation passes, restaurants would have to enclose the smoking area so that no one would pass through it entering or leaving the building.

Using Applebee's and Scotty's Brewhouse as examples, Mochal said some restaurants have their smoking areas adjacent to the waiting area.

Mochal said he questioned if second-hand smoke would have an impact if people were just passing through it.

"For a child with asthma, it would have an impact," Roepke said.

Coulter said Scotty's could install another door at another end of the building. Applebee's, however, would not be as fortunate, he said.

"It could be a pretty good cost factor," Coulter said. "Applebee's could have quite a problem."

This would be the second round for Delaware County, which tried to pass an ordinance last year affecting smokers. The ordinance failed, though, because it had flaws, Roepke said. This time, according to Roepke, the task force tried to get more public opinion.

The restaurants' interests are already represented. Six of the members own or manage a restaurant or tavern, and one has had personal experience with smoking bans. Scott Wise, owner of Scotty's, serves on the committee and owns a restaurant in Bloomington, where smoking is not allowed in restaurants.

Most of the public opinion the task force has garnered has not been favorable for smokers.

Earlier in the year, the task force took a survey of Delaware County. Most of the people who took the survey, 212 of 537, wanted to limit smoking to enclosed areas in restaurants that currently allow it.

The second-most popular option was to ban smoking in all restaurants. It received 206 votes.

Delaware County resident Julia K. Gouveia also presented a 691-signature petition for an immediate ban on smoking. Gouveia said she wanted to make the task force aware of the numbers supporting a ban.

"I should be free to go to any restaurant in Delaware County and be safe," Gouveia said.

The number of combined respondents on the task force's survey and Gouveia's petition, however, are only about 1 percent of Delaware County's population of 188,769, based on 2000 Census data.

Also, neither of them were taken scientifically.

"My personal opinion is it is kind of a lop-sided opinion she took," Coulter said.

Coulter has tried to contact chain restaurant managers, which he said would be most affected by the ban. Those who talked to Coulter said they had no opinion.


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