Smoking Ban Protest

WE HAVE RIGHTS: Kathy Armstrong and others protest in front of Kokomo's city hall over a proposed city ordinance that would ban smoking in bars and private clubs. The ordinance passed through its first reading at the Kokomo Common Council Monday night with a 5-4 vote. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

After months of preparation by council committee members and hours of discussion from the public, amendments to the Kokomo Common Council’s smoke-free ordinance failed to pass a second reading.

The amendments, which would have banned smoking tobacco in bars, taverns and social clubs, and the use of E-cigarettes in all enclosed public establishments, were voted down by a 5-4 margin.

The council approved the ordinance by the same margin on first reading. Council members Mike Wyant, Mike Kennedy, Donnie Haworth Bob Cameron and Kevin Summers cast dissenting votes. Summers changed his vote, bringing the amendments down.

A crowd packed the seats and nearly all of the available standing room inside the council chambers, speaking out both in favor and against the amendments for more than an hour.

Those in opposition, including a number of area veterans and bar owners, responded to the vote with loud applause.

“It’s huge for us,” Vapor Route Owner Jess Wilkinson said. “We don’t have to shut our doors. I don’t have to move. It’s a good thing.”

Bert & John’s Tavern owner Dave Mumaw passionately spoke out against the ordinance, urging council members to think about the impact the amendments would have on business owners. Following the vote, he expressed relief for the countless patrons who smoke in his establishment.

“I sunk every dime into owning that bar,” he said. “This is the right decision right now. I really feel that I would have gone out of business and that the people have the free will to make choices about where they go. I feel like a higher power will ultimately make the decision at some point for [our patrons], but I’m really happy for them right now.”

Those in favor of the ordinance argued for the health benefits for the public at large.

Breathe Easy Howard County advocate Shirley DuBois said the ordinance would have made a lasting impact on the health of all citizens in Kokomo and Howard County.

“Our goal has always been to make Howard County a better place to live, play and work,” he said. “This ordinance could help prevent the next cancer diagnosis, the next unexpected asthma attack, heart attack or stroke from stealing another loved one’s life.”

Resident and cancer survivor Nichole White spoke emotionally about how she wanted to be able to patronize bars and taverns that allow smoking but could not because of the health risks it posed, asking council members to consider the rights of citizens to breathe smoke-free air.

“I simply cannot breathe in a smoke-filled [bar],” she said. “I’ve heard numerous complaints that people wouldn’t come into bars anymore if they are smoke free. I’m one of those people that will be able to go into those bars. These people are not a myth, I’m one of them.”

Councilman Bob Cameron spoke out passionately against the ordinance’s amendments, advocating for the rights of those who have smoked and patronized bars for decades.

"If this coalition really wants to do some good with smoking, they should go around schools where 11 and 12-year-old kids are going outside and lighting up after school,” he said. “The people that are smoking at [bars], that’s their home away from home.

“My wife had cancer back-to-back and she never smoked,” he added. “I asked her about this and she said ‘I don’t feel you have the right as a councilman to take the rights away from these people.’”

The city first passed its smoke-free ordinance in 2006, with exemptions for tobacco outlets, bars and taverns and fraternal organizations.

A statewide smoking ban went into effect in July 2012 that prohibited smoking in all public places and 8 feet from an entrance. Exemptions were granted for bars and taverns, horse-racing facilities, off-track betting parlors, casinos and riverboats.

Martin Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8570, or on Twitter @slagterm.

React to this story: