ANR UPDATE, 33(2), Summer 2014

Tales from the Trenches: Evansville, Indiana

Evansville is located in Southern Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River and is home to Evansville University (Go Purple Aces!). In 2012, the city council debated a smokefree workplace law. The ordinance originally covered all workplaces, but then exempted the local Tropicana Evansville casino based on the economic scare stories brought to the City Council by the casino manager. This left the casino's hundreds of staff and customers exposed to deadly secondhand smoke.

A group of local bar owners sued the city, claiming it was not legal to exempt the casino. The case went to the Indiana Supreme Court, which agreed with the bar owner and invalidated the entire smokefree law. So, now Evansville officials must decide whether to enact a strong smokefree law that covers all workplaces - including the casino - or have no local law at all. Ironically, many of the bars in the lawsuit have stayed smokefree because it has proved good for business.

Evansville is the third largest city in Indiana and is now one of the only college towns in the Midwest without a strong smokefree law. Meanwhile, the city spent significantly on legal fees to defend the casino exemption. Had they just included this facility in the first place, they could have avoided the lawsuit and people would now be taking smokefree indoor air for granted in all workplaces and public places.

Part of the problem in Indiana is that it has a weak statewide smokefree law that exempts casinos and bars. This means that the burden for leadership falls to cities like Evansville to close the gap, despite the challenges of casino companies and tavern owners exerting their power at the community level. Most casino companies in Indiana seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. They don't want to be smokefree by local law because it wouldn't cover other casinos in the state, but they also don't want a statewide smokefree law. At the same time, they do want to become "land-based" casinos in Indiana in order to "remain competitive" with the (smokefree) gambling properties in Ohio and Illinois that have caused Indiana to lose about 30% of its gambling revenue. The problem of secondhand smoke won't go away. It will now take action at the local level to make casinos smokefree, but eventually the Legislature needs to close the gaps in the statewide law too.

ANR is supporting the Smokefree Evansville coalition in its smokefree effort. Evansville was recently selected by Indiana University to be the home of a prominent new medical school. This is just another reason why Evansville officials should move forward with a strong smokefree workplace ordinance that covers all workplaces and public places.

If you have a connection to Evansville as a visitor, student, or resident, please send a note to Mayor Lloyd Winnecke letting him know why you support a smokefree future:

City of Evansville
Indiana Civic Center Complex
1 NW Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd., Room 302
Evansville, IN 47708

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