TERRE HAUTE — A survey of Terre Haute bar employees found about two-thirds are against a proposed nonsmoking ordinance smoldering before the City Council.
Of 31 bar employees surveyed over the past five days at more than 20 different Terre Haute bars, 21 said they opposed the ordinance, which would ban smoking in all Terre Haute workplaces, including taverns and private clubs.
“I came here from Illinois [which has a comprehensive smoking ban],” said Troy Powell, a bartender at Ambrosini’s in Terre Haute. “I saw how it hurt the bars.” About 70 percent of the customers at Ambrosini’s, a bar and restaurant, smoke, Powell said. “There’s a lot of revenue wrapped up in this decision.”
Supporters of the smoking ordinance say it will protect all workers from the health hazards of tobacco smoke.
While 68 percent of bar employees surveyed said they opposed the smoking ban, 26 percent (eight employees in all) said they favored it.
“I’m definitely in favor of it,” said Stacy Gregg, a bartender at the Ballyhoo Tavern, which is a smoke-free bar near the Indiana State University campus. “Just being able to walk in and breathe, it’s nice, it really is.”
While most bar employees surveyed expressed strong opinions about the proposed ordinance, two – about 7 percent of those surveyed – said they were undecided about the ordinance, which could be voted on Thursday night by the City Council.
There are more than 30 Terre Haute bars listed in the 2010-2011 Yellowbook telephone directory. Some local bars listed in the directory have closed, some are outside of the city limits and some local bars have no listing. Bars outside of the Terre Haute city limits would not be affected by the ordinance.
During the Tribune-Star survey, employees were asked whether they favored or opposed the pending smoking ordinance. A total of 33 employees were surveyed; however, two responses were discarded because the employees were related to bar owners. In four cases, the bar owner was present while the employees were surveyed. Of those, three said they opposed the ordinance and one employee favored it.
Several local bar owners have expressed opposition to the pending ordinance. Some are expected to attend Thursday night’s City Council meeting, at which the ordinance could face a vote, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
The survey did not include employees of private clubs or bars operated by national chains, such as Buffalo Wild Wings or Outback Steakhouse.
Of the bar employees surveyed who opposed the ordinance, a large majority were cigarette smokers.
“I’m a smoker so you know my thoughts on it,” said a bartender at a small neighborhood bar on Wabash Avenue.
The survey took place at bars on the east, north and south sides of the city as well as downtown. In most cases, the names of the employees were not recorded in an effort to promote more candid answers. The survey included 19 bars that currently permit smoking and two bars that have voluntarily gone nonsmoking.
“I think it’s everybody’s choice,” said a bartender at a northside neighborhood bar where many of the customers were smoking Friday afternoon. “I don’t think you’ll find many nonsmoking bartenders,” she said.
“There are plenty of nonsmoking places to work,” said an employee of an east-side bar who is also a smoker. However, she added, some of her friends in the bartending business said they might smoke less under a nonsmoking ordinance.
At a southside neighborhood bar, one bar employee said he strongly favors the ordinance.
“I would welcome it,” he said, adding that he is a former smoker. In fact, “I think it’s going to be good for business” because there are more nonsmokers than smokers, he said.
Other bar employees were not so sure the ordinance would help business.
“I’d be afraid we’d lose a bunch of our customers,” said a bartender at a neighborhood bar on the city’s east side. This bartender, a smoker, said she had worked at a bar that voluntarily went smoke-free and “we lost half of our bar clientele.”
Another bartender on a small Lafayette Avenue bar said she did not believe the ordinance would work well because she would need to step outside to smoke. “That would leave no one to tend the bar,” she said. “So I guess I’m against it.”
The State of Illinois has a ban on smoking at all workplaces, including bars. One bar manager on the city’s south side said her small bar has customers from Paris and Marshall, Ill., who drive to Terre Haute to escape the Illinois law.
Employees at downtown bars were more likely to support the ban. Of the eight favoring the ordinance, six work at bars close to downtown. Among employees in outlying bars, opposition to the ban was nearly unanimous.
“I’m all for it,” said one downtown bartender speaking Saturday. “I quit two years ago. It looks like it’s on fire in here most of the time.”
Jennifer Long, a bartender at Ambrosini’s on Wabash Avenue, said she opposes the ban.
“I’m a nonsmoker, but I still believe smokers have a right to smoke. Most places regulate [smoking] fairly well. It’s not necessary.”
By Arthur Foulkes, (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.