OPEN FOR DEBATE: County set to take up changes to smoking ordinance


HANCOCK COUNTY — The county commissioners and local health officials hope to find some common ground as they attempt to amend Hancock County’s smoke-free ordinance for the first time in a decade.

The result might well be an exemption for tobacco retailers, but it could also mean even more restrictions on smoking in public than exist now, according to a draft of the revised ordinance.

Discussions first began between county leaders and the health community a few weeks ago when a business owner — Larry Harnish of Maduro on Main — asked the commissioners if he could open a smoking lounge inside his cigar shop in downtown Fortville. The county has restricted smoking inside all retail shops, as well as most county establishments, since the smoking ban took effect in 2009.

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Before the commissioners introduced the ordinance at their meeting last week, their attorney, Scott Benkie, met with Steve Long, CEO of Hancock Health, to firm up the language and find a compromise between both sides. Health officials had previously spoken about the success of the current ordinance.

The commissioners had previously said they wanted the amendment to focus on allowing smoking within stores that primarily sell tobacco products but not gas stations, convenience stores or supermarkets that also sell cigarettes and cigars. The current ban doesn’t prohibit smoking in private residences, motor vehicles and hotel and motel rooms. It also lets people smoke at least 10 feet away from entrances to restaurants rather than the 25-foot buffer from all other workplaces and businesses.

Long said he and Brandee Bastin, the tobacco initiative coordinator at Hancock Regional Hospital, worked together to gather input from the public and health community, including officials with the Hancock County Health Department, on how to frame up the language without loosening the strict ordinance. The commissioners have to balance the needs of retailers and those in the health community, Long said.

Since the commissioners initially wanted to amend the ordinance to allow smoking within retail tobacco stores, Long said in order to keep the law robust, he, on behalf of the health community, requested for the ordinance to include a new smoking ban in public parks and also to firm up language on vaping.

“When you look at the ordinance as it sits out online right now … it remains a very strong ordinance,” Long said. “We are always going to be in favor of anything that improves the health-care status of people in Hancock County That’s what we’re all about.”

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Hancock County’s smoking rate has declined to 16 percent from 22 percent since 2011, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The smoking ban gets at least some of the credit for that decline.

Brad Armstrong, the only commissioner who was on the board of commissioners when the ordinance took effect in 2009, said residents can speak about the amendment at the next commissioner meeting on Oct. 1.

“If we see things that we feel like need to be changed after hearing from everybody that wants to speak about it, then we’ll tweak it, Armstrong said. “If we feel like it’s good to go as it is, we’ll pass it. If we feel like it’s not going to be a good thing, we won’t pass it. It’s pretty straightforward.”

Armstrong said the commissioners are cognizant of the importance of reducing secondhand smoke, but they also need to listen to the needs of retailers.

“We’re making big strides to be a healthy county, and we don’t want to do anything to push that back. We want to protect those from secondhand smoke,” Armstrong said. “But, this is really a case where people are choosing to use that product in their home; it’s just kind of a way to sample products and see what they’re like at the store.”

Lighting up in the store

The amendment states the smoking ban does not apply to retail tobacco stores and stores that sell vaping devices. In order for a tobacco store to fall under the guidelines of the ordinance, 90% of its gross revenues has to come from selling tobacco products and smoking instruments. The store also cannot sell or allow food and beverages on its premises.

Vape stores have similar guidance in the ordinance, but those businesses don’t have to meet the 90% quota. Both sections also state the store has to be “a stand-alone business with no other businesses or residential property attached to the premises.”

Benkie said that doesn’t mean in order for customers to smoke in a tobacco store, the building cannot touch other businesses. He said it’s worded to avoid loopholes that some might try to exploit. Businesses where smoking is already prohibited, such as a restaurant or bar, cannot open a tobacco shop within the confines or connected to the restaurant or bar, thus creating a potential smoking room.

Maduro on Main in Fortville, for example, shares a doorway on an interior wall with Libby’s Ice Cream & Gifts, and tenants live above the cigar shop. That doesn’t violate the ordinance guidelines, Benkie said.

When the commissioners first discussed looking into amending the smoke-free ordinance a few months ago, they had mentioned wording the ordinance to keep a smoking area in a retail tobacco store in a separate area, Armstrong said. But, he said it’s difficult to list all of the specifications needed on a filtration system. Instead, they chose to limit the seating capacity of the tobacco shops to eight people.

Long said focusing on the number of people in a space where smoking is allowed limits the amount of smoke that’s generated, rather than creating a large list of guidelines on ventilation and filtration.

Prohibition of outdoor public smoking

Amending the ordinance to include smoking within tobacco and vape shops meant there also needed to be some “give-and-take” between county leaders and the health community, Armstrong said.

The revised ordinance prohibits smoking in outdoor recreational areas, such as parks, dog parks and sports fields, as well as the parking lots for those outdoor spaces. But, since Hancock County doesn’t have any parks, the ordinance states local municipalities can designate areas for smoking in those public places.

The new section to the ordinance also bans smoking — except in designated smoking areas — in common areas of apartment buildings, condominiums, trailer parks, retirement facilities, nursing homes and other multi-unit residences; and also outdoor places of employment, such as construction sites.

Both of those provisions, however, fall under wording in the original ordinance enacted in 2009.

Long said he thinks adding a smoking ban in public parks, while at the same time allowing smoking in tobacco and vaping shops, could end up reducing the overall smoking and vaping rate in the county.

“As a health-care organization, we want to ensure that actions are taken that improve the health status of people in Hancock County. The use of tobacco and vaping are clearly huge components of that,” Long said. “We feel like in the end, this allows us to achieve that goal while at the same time balancing out the requests of others and of course the commissioners. I would applaud the commissioners for their ability to gather insight from everybody and work with us.”

Cigars, ice cream

Harnish, who opened his cigar shop, Maduro on Main, at 11 S. Main St., in Fortville last winter, said he was surprised to hear how many of his customers asked whether they could smoke inside. It prompted him to approach county leaders about a potential change to smoking regulations.

If the changes pass, Harnish is considering building a room on the back of his store with a separate ventilation system that would exchange the air inside every six to 10 minutes.

“It wouldn’t be your typical smoky establishment,” he said.

As the air in the room gets pushed outside, it would go through filters that Harnish said he’d replace regularly.

The concept is similar to those used by Blend Bar with Davidoff Cigars in the Clearwater Shoppes strip mall in Indianapolis as well as in casinos, Harnish said.

Options to buy and then light up a cigar in the area are limited, he also said.

“This isn’t promoting cigar smoking,” Harnish said of his plans. “It’s just giving those guys who already smoke a chance to stay in Hancock County.”

Libby’s Ice Cream & Gifts abuts Maduro on Main to the south.

Libby Wyatt, owner of the shop, said if the ordinance passed and the odor of cigar smoke made its way into her store, she trusts that Harnish would bar smoking inside his businesses until finding a solution.

“As far as character goes, Larry is a good person,” Wyatt said. “ … I feel we have a good relationship. We support each other and our businesses. If there were a problem, he wouldn’t take advantage of that situation.”

Wyatt added that if the ventilation system works the way Harnish says, she’d actually prefer for him to have it, as sometimes Maduro on Main customers smoke their cigars on a bench outside.

“I would rather have it in the back of the building,” she said, “so my customers can sit out on the sidewalk with their kids and eat their ice cream.”

How does Hancock County line up?

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Hancock County has one of the strictest smoke-free ordinances in the state. To date, 42 municipalities and counties in Indiana have some sort of smoking ban. In addition to Hancock County, Greenfield and Cumberland also have smoke-free laws.

Greenfield doesn’t ban smoking in bars, but since Hancock County has a stricter ordinance, it overrules city code.

Hancock County, Howard County, Bloomington and Kokomo — the county seat for Howard County — each ban smoking and vaping in public places, workplaces, restaurants, bars and taverns, outdoor seating and membership clubs, according to the state department of health. Howard County and Kokomo do allow for the sampling of tobacco products in retail tobacco stores.

Communities that don’t have a ban on smoking fall under the guidelines of the Indiana Smoke Free Air Law, which allows smoking in bars and taverns, tobacco retail shops, cigar bars, hookah bars, gaming facilities, horse tracks and membership clubs, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.

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Here are excerpts from the county’s proposed amendment to the 2009 smoke-free ordinance.

“(C) Prohibition of Smoking in Outdoor Public Places

Smoking shall be prohibited in the following outdoor places:

(2) On all outdoor property that is adjacent to buildings owned, leased, or operated by Hancock County or that is under the control of the County.

(4) In outdoor shopping malls, including parking structures.

(5) In all outdoor arenas, stadiums, and amphitheaters. Smoking shall also be Prohibited in, and within 25 feet of, bleachers and grandstands for use by spectators at sporting and other public events.

(6) In outdoor recreational areas (parks, dog parks, baseball fields, etc.), including parking lots for those facilities except for areas designated by local municipalities.

(7) In, and within 25 feet of, all outdoor playgrounds.

(8) In, and within 25 feet of, all outdoor public events.

(10) In all outdoor services lines, including lines in which service is obtained by persons in vehicles, such as service that is provided by bank tellers, parking lot attendants, and toll takers. In lines in which service is obtained by persons in vehicles, smoking is prohibited by both pedestrians and persons in vehicles, but only within 25 feet of the point of service.

(11) In outdoor common areas of apartment buildings, condominiums, trailer parks, retirement facilities, nursing homes, and other multiple-unit residential facilities, except in designated smoking areas, not to exceed twenty-five percent (25%) of the total outdoor common area, which must be located at least 25 feet outside entrances, operable windows, and ventilation systems of enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited, and that such business have a valid business permit.

(12) Smoking shall be prohibited in all outdoor places of employment where two or more employees are required to be in the course of their employment. This includes, without limitation, work areas, construction sites, and temporary offices such as trailers, restroom facilities and vehicles.

(C) The prohibitions of this Section do not apply to:

(4) Electronic smoking device retail store:

a. That is primarily engaged in the sale of tobacco products for profit, intended for off-premises consumption or use;

b. Prohibits persons under 18 years or age [or 21, depending on applicable law] from entering the premises;

c. Does not sell, offer or allow on-premises consumption of any food or beverages, including alcoholic beverages;

d. Is a stand-alone business with no other businesses or residential property attached to the premises;

e. Has a maximum seating capacity of eight persons; and

f. A requirement that such establishments have a valid business permit as that type of establishment.

(5) Retail tobacco store:

a. That is primarily engaged in the sale of tobacco products and smoking instruments intended for off-premises consumption or use, with at least 90% of the gross revenues of the business resulting from such sales;

b. Prohibits persons under 18 years of age [or 21, depending on applicable law] from entering the premises;

c. Does not sell, offer or allow on-premises consumption of any food or beverages, including alcoholic beverages;

d. is a stand-alone business with no other businesses or residential property attached to the premises;

e. Has a maximum seating capacity of eight persons; and

f. The customer is prohibited from bringing tobacco products into the store for consumption purposes.”

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The following Indiana communities have some sort of smoke-free law in effect.

Communities that ban smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars:

Delaware County

Hancock County

Howard County

Monroe County

Vanderburgh County

Vigo County





Fort Wayne







Terre Haute

West Lafayette


Indianapolis Airport Authority

South Bend

Communities that ban smoking in workplaces and restaurants

Allen County



Crown Point




Henry County







Source: Indiana State Department of Health