Herald Photo / Devin Zimmerman
TAKING THE VOTE  — A crowd gathered at City Hall on Monday to see how the Common Council would vote on the smoking ban. The ban passed 5 to 4.
Herald Photo / Devin Zimmerman TAKING THE VOTE — A crowd gathered at City Hall on Monday to see how the Common Council would vote on the smoking ban. The ban passed 5 to 4.
After two public meetings, a couple of hours of testimony, numerous differing opinions, and two approving votes by two local government entities, Howard County and Kokomo’s comprehensive smoking ban was approved.

On Monday the Howard County Commissioners first approved an ordinance that banned smoking within enclosed public places within the county. After that board’s unanimous vote, a 5–4 vote by the Kokomo Common Council allowed the ban to be effective within city limits by way of a resolution. As a result of these two votes, smoking will no longer be allowed within public enclosed areas beginning on April 1, with the exception of tobacco stores. 

For bars, private clubs, and the outdoor seating areas of restaurants, bars, and other similar businesses that aren’t restricted to individuals under the age of 18, smoking effectively will be banned beginning on July 1.

Regardless of the measure’s eventual passing, both sides of the smoking ban debate made their voices heard on the night of the two government votes.

Multiple representatives of local private clubs voiced opposition to the ban. For example, organizations with private clubs that would be affected, such as the American Legion Post 6 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1152, said the ordinance represented a violation of the freedom of choice for businesses and clubs.

“If there is a business in our community that you don’t care for, you don’t like, you have that freedom of choice to not give them one dime of your money,” said John Meeks, the commander of VFW Post 1152. “But in this ordinance, you are wanting to take the right away from the business owner and members of organizations to operate their business as they see fit. If it’s the right choice, and they make a profit, the community profits. If our organization makes the right choice and we make money, the community also benefits because it would mean more money that we give away to our community, our youth, and other organizations in this town. Regardless of whether it’s the right choice or the wrong choice, it’s the owners’ choice or the members’ choice. Not someone else.”

Also, local bar owners and bartenders voiced opposition to the ordinance. They claimed that for the bars that still allowed smoking after a previous smoking ban, removing the ability for patrons to smoke would hurt business.

Shelley Hinders, a local bartender, said she had seen the effects of a smoking ban already.

“It does have an effect because I was here and started with the Corner Pub back in 2011 right when they had stopped everything,” said Hinders. “It was a ghost town. After almost two weeks I thought I had to quit because I was making no money. As soon as we put the ashtrays out, they started coming back in. You guys say it doesn’t affect our jobs or how much we bring home, but it will.”

Supporters of the move, however, were just as numerous as those opposed to the ban.

Breathe Easy Howard County, for example, supported the ordinance because it would limit exposure to secondhand smoke for individuals who work at bars.

“A comprehensive smoke-free air policy would allow everyone in Howard County and the greater Kokomo community to work in a safe, smoke free environment,” said Willie Stroman, the chairman of Breathe Easy Howard County. “No employee should have to choose between their health and a paycheck. State and local governments have a responsibility to protect the health of our citizens.”

The commissioner board’s unanimous vote in approval of the county-wide ordinance signaled support for claims about local health.

Additionally, Commissioner Paul Wyman doubted the ban would hurt local businesses. The commissioner said local support continued for local restaurants after smoking first was removed from such establishments several years ago.

“I stopped by Texas Roadhouse, and the wait is an hour and a half,” said Wyman. “These are establishments where you can’t smoke. You can’t go into the movies and smoke. You can’t go into Texas Roadhouse and smoke. People who smoke haven’t boycotted these places in our community that for years you have not been able to smoke at. I don’t know why, if you were a smoker, you would take it out on the small business owners now.”

The Common Council’s vote was split, but eventually the edge was awarded the a resolution allowing the county’s ordinance to take effect within Kokomo’s limits.

Voting in favor of the ban were council members Tom Miklik, Cindy Sanders, Janie Young, Bob Hayes, and Stephen Whikehart. Opposed to the ban were Mike Wyant, Bob Cameron, Donnie Haworth, and Mike Kennedy, which brought the vote to a count of 5 – 4.

Those opposed to the resolution sided more with the idea of a business being able to choose how it operates, and concern also was voiced that small business would be hurt by the ban.

“So help me, I hope I’m wrong about this, but you’ll see a few of (the bars) close,” said Wyant prior to casting a dissenting vote against the measure. “People will lose their jobs. I’ve never had one waitress or bartender complain to me about the smoking in the bars. I’ve never had one complain to me. I’m here to support you guys, these bar owners. I will not support this.”

Miklik, who carried the resolution, however noted that it’s up to the community to continue supporting the smaller establishments in town. So long as the ban is universal, he also said he believed that since all bars were affected by the ban, then it created an equal situation for the businesses.

“I have confidence in the bar owners,” said Miklik. “I have confidence in all of us if we have a level playing field. If we pick and choose who can and who cannot, then what you’ve done is made it an unequal playing field.”