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Smoking regulations approved

by Tim Tedeschi - ttedeschi@chronicle-tribune.com

County bar and private club owners will continue to be able to permit smoking at their discretion as part of updated smoking regulations passed by county commissioners.

After more than a year of debate, Commissioner Mark Bardsley presented a final draft of the proposed smoking ordinance at a regular meeting Monday, which was approved unanimously. The ordinance is effective immediately.

The ordinance states smoking within 8 feet of any entrance to a building designated as smoke-free will be prohibited, as well as smoking within 20 feet of outdoor restaurants and businesses, playgrounds, stadiums and multi-unit residential buildings like apartments and senior living facilities’ entrances and windows.

Bars and private clubs restricted to those 18 and older that adhere to state guidelines will continue to be able to operate as smoking establishments. Private residences not used as childcare, adult day care or healthcare facilities and retail tobacco stores will also be exempt from the smoking ban of public places.

The final ordinance was similar to a proposal Bardsley presented at the Aug. 19 meeting, which he described at the time as a compromise between stakeholders on both sides of the smoking debate.

One notable difference in the approved ordinance from the proposal is the removal of a section outlining the county health department as the local agency responsible for enforcing the ban, Bardsley said.

The wording was removed at the health department’s request, according to Bardsley. Enforcement will now fall to Indiana field offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Indiana State Department of Health, he says.

“Ultimately, that can trickle down to the local, so we can’t eliminate that entirely per their request,” Bardsley said.

While the enforcement agency has changed, penalties for violating the ordinance continue to range from a verbal and written warning for the first violation up to a $1,500 fine for five or more violations within a calendar year.

Commissioners also removed language prohibiting smoking at festivals, while other public events including concerts, fairs, parades and others will be smoke-free per the ordinance.

Bardsley also stressed that throughout the new ordinance, e-cigarettes are treated equally and will be subject to the same stipulations as any other type of cigarette.

“I’m glad we’re putting this to rest,” Commissioner Ron Mowery said. “We’ve talked about this now for well over a year.”

Renewed talks of a smoking ban in all public places within the county began in August of 2018 with a county health board proposal.

After a series of false starts, public hearings and debate on the issue, commissioners ultimately let the proposed ordinance die this July after a motion made by President Mike Burton was not seconded by Bardsley or Mowery.

In other business Monday, commissioners approved the hiring of Robert Jackson to replace Bruce Bender as county Emergency Management Agency director effective Nov. 1. Jackson has 30 years of experience as a first responder, according to Bender.

Commissioners also OK’d the fifth draft of the interlocal agreement between the county and Gas City and the City of Marion, respectively, for the ongoing central dispatch project. Bardsley said Gas City had already approved the agreement, while Marion is scheduled to vote on the agreement tonight.