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Clearing the air

City reaps the benefits of tobacco-control efforts


Some good news about Indiana’s smoke-free air law is particularly good news for Fort Wayne.

A study shows that, two years after that law was enacted, the air in restaurants is significantly cleaner.

The study focused on fine particles, a dangerous component of secondhand smoke released by burning cigarettes. Its author, Dr. Mark Krahling of the University of Southern Indiana, says the level of fine particles in the air in 33 restaurants around the state has dropped by 85 percent since the law took effect in July 2012. The particulate levels now, in fact, are slightly lower than the average level in the outdoor air.

The debate over whether secondhand smoke is harmful is long over. According to the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission, secondhand smoke can cause cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems. It kills about 1,200 Hoosiers per year.

Indiana’s law was a lifesaving step. The study results make Fort Wayne City Councilman John Crawford and other leaders look all the wiser for passing an even stronger law five years before the state.

“Our air is probably much cleaner” than air in the restaurants Krahling measured, said Jill Leal, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County. “We are always at the forefront of tobacco control.”

Fort Wayne’s ordinance bans smoking in most workplaces and restaurants. But the local rule also bans smoking in bars and forces smokers to stand 20 feet away from public entrances; the Indiana law sets an eight-foot rule.

Fort Wayne’s measure is still the most restrictive in the state and is used as a model by other communities. In fact, the only issue the city didn’t address in 2007 is electronic nicotine delivery systems – so-called e-cigarettes. “That’s because they were not a very popular or much-marketed tobacco product at the time,” Leal said.

Allen County residents outside city limits are not so lucky, though. The state law applies, of course, but taverns and bars are still allowed to be havens for smokers, with the 8-feet-from-the-entrance rule, which still may be close enough for smoke to seep inside an establishment. The situation also makes for a lot of confusion.

“The great thing about the state law is that they did not put pre-emptive language in the bill,” Leal said. This allows counties and businesses to enact standards that are stricter than the Indiana law. “We need one comprehensive law for the city and county,” she said.

These efforts are not easy. In South Bend, a long-stalled drive to pass an anti-smoking law finally came to a vote this week – and failed, after a council member withdrew her support.

But for all Indiana communities, and for Allen County, the continuing battle against secondhand tobacco smoke is worth it.