Doctors and health advocates quoted statistics about the effects of tobacco use, and bar owners talked about their rights to run their businesses as they see fit, during the two-hour hearing.
“I think there’s a fundamental question that we’re talking about here tonight,” council member Valerie Schey, D-3rd, said near the end of the hearing, “and that is, ‘What is government’s role?'”
Schey, who is the lead sponsor of the smoking ban measure, said its aim is to protect people who work in South Bend bars from being subjected to secondhand smoke.
“Personally,” she said, “I am very thankful for the governmental agencies that regulate and oversee business for our health and welfare. … In terms of public policy, I believe this is good policy that is in the best interests of our residents.”
Many people at the hearing wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Breathe easy South Bend” to show support for the measure.
Several bar owners, however, testified that a smoking ban would hurt their businesses and possibly force them to close.
They said no one is forced to patronize or work in a bar where smoking is allowed. Some also said the proposal is unfair because it exempts private and fraternal clubs.
John Burggraf, secretary-treasurer for the local chapter of the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association, said people in South Bend already have plenty of options with smoke-free bars and restaurants.
“At this point, there are a lot more places — restaurants and bars, even — in the city of South Bend that are smoke-free,” he said.
Burggraf noted that national and regional chains don’t allow smoking, and all of the establishments in Eddy Street Commons are smoke-free. Many other independent bars and restaurants have opted to prohibit smoking.
He said the ban will mainly hurt “mom and pop” neighborhood bars.
Kevin O’Flaherty, an advocate with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said multiple studies across the nation have concluded that smoking bans don’t hurt business for bars and restaurants.
“Red states, blue states, conservative, liberal, wherever you are in the country, the majority of people in this country are protected by comprehensive laws similar to the law you’re looking at tonight,” O’Flaherty told the council, “and there has been no negative impact proven, scientifically.”
Council President Derek Dieter, D-at large, questioned how police and the department of code enforcement will be able to enforce the ban. If someone calls to complain about a person smoking at a bar, he said, the smoker will likely be gone or finished smoking by the time a city official arrives to check on the complaint.
Lindsay Grace of the American Lung Association said smoking laws are “basically self-enforcing.” For example, she said Indianapolis enacted a smoking ban June 1, and the new law has led to five complaints and three citations among that city’s 300 bars.
The St. Joseph County Council approved a smoking ban with several exemptions, including one for bars, in 2006. The council voted 7-2 last year against expanding the ordinance to cover bars.
The Indiana General Assembly approved a statewide ban, which also exempts bars, earlier this year. That law is scheduled to take effect July 1.
The South Bend Common Council is scheduled to vote on the anti-smoking measure next Monday. If approved, it will take effect July 1.