Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Indiana’s Smoke Free Air Law goes into effect on July 1, and here's how it affects us.

You're recall that the state's "revolutionary" 2012 smoking law is riddled with exceptions, exclusions and vivid testaments to endemic political cowardice, sad topics sufficient to provide hours of worthy discussion -- but the whole issue has come to bore me intensely. The long and the short of it remains: The legislature has decreed that some employees are more worthy of workplace safety than others. So be it.

As this new law pertains to NABC’s two on-premise locations, nothing much will change.

At the Pizzeria & Public House, we chose of our own volition to go smoke-free in January, 2011. It’s old news. About the only question raised by the new gobbledygook is the distance from the two entry doors to the benches outside where smoking is permitted, but although my raging disinterest precludes taking the time to actually measure, my guess is they’re a safe eight feet away.

At Bank Street Brewhouse, it’s a bit more complicated, even though it shouldn’t be, and none of the complications are related to the new law. Rather, they have to do with shaky communication and a dollop of jurisdictional confusion among competing bureaucracies.

From BSB’s inception in 2009, we chose to be smoke-free at the bar and in the dining room, and also at the front outdoor patio area facing Bank Street. Many times since, I have been asked: Why the front patio area? It’s because when the garage doors are open, smoke comes straight into the dining room, defeating the purpose.

When the side patio on BSB’s north side was added later in 2009, we allowed smoking there because it was open to the elements, and a wall and two doors separated it from the dining room.

However, in order to make this patio suitable for altered alcoholic beverage licensing (primarily, being given permission to serve beer from taps protruding from the walk-in cooler), it had to cease being a patio, and start being a building. Having been rendered a building, the way was clear to begin the clearing of the parking lot and the build-out of a new patio.

(At this juncture, note that the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, the Floyd County Health Department, the New Albany Building Commissioner and even the local fire department have differing definitions of many of the words I’m using here. What is a patio, a building, a wall or a door? Verily, it depends on which bureaucrat you ask.)

Q. What happens when those definitions differ?

A. That’s a very good question. We find out, some times on a weekly basis.

In effect, BSB’s side patio ceased to exist when it was enclosed and weatherproofed in early winter, and it now must be treated as an indoor dining room. Accordingly, before the statewide smoking “fudge” was even enacted, we declared the former patio to be a non-smoking area, in keeping with our own previous smoking policy as well as balancing as many competing bureaucratic definitions of reality as possible. In this sense, the state’s new smoking rules merely added another thin layer of existential juggling to the morass already in place.

For several months, our “no smoking on the former patio” policy has confused some patrons and angered others. Of course, I always regret misunderstandings, but as of July 1, it is rendered moot, because the area falls under the parameters of the new state law. There can be no smoking there, irrespective of the garage doors, which some might say should allow flexibility. Very gently, allow me to say: Perhaps in the ideal world, but when four separate bureaucratic regulators cannot agree on the definition of exactly what constitutes a door, it’s best for all of us (myself included; I’m a cigar smoker) to get over ourselves and just move on.

It was our original plan to put a covered (not all-weatherized) smoking area in the square nook where the bicycle rack previously stood, but the eight-feet-from-the-entry rule precludes this. So, as we proceed with building out the future garden in the current parking area, we’ll do what we can with the walk-in’s outdoor north face and provide a place there. The future garden itself, which I’m not calling a beer garden because according to the ATC, it will be licensed as a patio (see?), will smooth over some of these rough spots. There’ll be places to smoke, places for dogs, and places to lounge in the sun with a beer in hand.

And, finally, the future outdoor area likely will be referred to as Lloyd’s Garden, in honor of the late Lloyd Wimp. We hope to begin soon.

Aroused by legalese? Read the smoking law in its thrilling entirety.

Dr. Tom, who seeks to "reduce some of the drama generated by the uninformed,"   provides the Floyd County Health Department's point of view.

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