FORT WAYNE — The huge glass walls of Grand Wayne Center offer a drawing point to downtown Fort Wayne and an impressive view of the surrounding area to visitors.
Yet its exterior could soon be littered with dozens of signs telling people something they already know: Smoking is prohibited inside the building.
While smoking has been prohibited in almost all indoor businesses for five years in Fort Wayne, the state smoking rules that take effect today require some changes – changes experts predict will cause confusion across the city.
Not only will there be two different sets of rules, there will be different groups enforcing each set.
Maj. Robin Poindexter, with the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, said he has no doubt there will be early confusion about the rules, especially in areas that already had smoking regulations in place.
“Oh, it certainly will, you can almost bet on it,” he said.
The Alcohol & Tobacco Commission is largely in charge of enforcing the state law.
Part of the problem in Fort Wayne is there was an assumption that because the city generally had a stricter smoking ban than the state, businesses could ignore state rules.
Katy Stafford, vice president of government affairs with the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, said she has heard from numerous businesses expressing confusion about what they have to do to stay in compliance.
The main message she tries to give is that businesses must meet the strictest part of each law to be in compliance. So if the state law requires something but the city doesn’t, you follow the state law. If the city law requires something stricter than the state, you follow the city code.
City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said the state should have simply mimicked Fort Wayne’s ordinance into its law. This not only would have banned smoking in more places – something Crawford, an oncologist, said is the medically sound decision – but it also would have eliminated confusion by business owners trying to comply with different sets of regulations.
“I just think it’s a poorly written law,” he said.
One of the most questioned parts of the new state law is its stringent requirements for no-smoking signs – basically that they be posted on every public entrance to a building used by the public.
Bob Lister, executive director of Grand Wayne Center, admitted Thursday he was unaware of the rules and how they would affect his building. Part of what makes the convention center so open is its huge glass walls lined with doors – 36 in all, Lister said.
He said he needs to check whether state rules require a separate sign to be posted on each door, despite their being lined in a row. He acknowledged that would not be his first choice because of it possibly detracting from the center’s aesthetic appeal.
“If we have to do it, we’ll do it,” he said.
Amanda Fall, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, said signs are by far causing the most confusion in the area. While Fort Wayne’s rules required no-smoking signs to be posted, the regulations weren’t as stringent as the state law.
Under the state law, there are five signs that have to be posted, depending on the business.
No. 1 – “State Law Prohibits Smoking Within 8 Feet of This Entrance.” These signs must be posted at each public entrance of a business. In Fort Wayne and rural Allen County, the sign must say “20 Feet” to comply with local rules.
No. 2 – “Smoking Is Prohibited by State Law.” Two or more of these signs must be posted inside every business not exempted from the smoking ban.
No. 3 – “Smoking Is Prohibited in This Restaurant.” Every restaurant in the state must post this sign at every entrance, in addition to the requirements of sign No. 1.
No. 4 – “Cigarette Smoking Is Prohibited.” A cigar or hookah bar must post two or more of these signs inside in addition to requirements for sign No. 1.
No. 5 – “Warning: Smoking Is Allowed in This Establishment.” Businesses exempt from the state law must post two or more of these signs indoors in public view. These businesses must still follow the rules for sign No. 1, meaning people can smoke in a bar but must move away from its door to smoke outside.
In Allen County there are multiple sets of rules. The city has one, the county has one for the unincorporated areas and many smaller communities have their own rules. New Haven, for example, allowed businesses to choose whether to allow smoking.
Fall said she has been working with local businesses to meet these sign requirements – except No. 5, which doesn’t apply in Fort Wayne. Those efforts have included printing out thousands of signs to distribute for free.
Signs aren’t the only change affecting Fort Wayne businesses. The state law also prohibits smoking in motel and hotel rooms – the city rules had allowed 20 percent of local rooms to allow smoking.
While some hotels had gone smoke-free on their own, the downtown Hilton will have to convert to nonsmoking, according to General Manager Mark Luttik. He said the Hilton brand required its properties to offer a small number of smoking rooms to give guests a choice, but those requirements now are superseded by state law.
Luttik said the hotel is working to comply with the rules. This includes changing the reservation system to ensure future guests know there isn’t a smoking option. In addition, guests who booked smoking rooms in the past are being contacted to inform them of the change.
He said there is no problem complying with the rules other than being in the hospitality industry that tries to cater to its guests’ desires.
“They’re accepting of it, but they may not be happy about it,” he said.
Fall, whose organization also represents Whitley County, said it has actually been easier working with businesses outside of Fort Wayne because there aren’t as many conflicting rules.
For example, she said there were still some factories in the area that allowed smoking indoors that know they must stop under the state rules.
The state ban prohibits smoking in most public places, but it gives more exemptions than Fort Wayne. For example, casinos are exempt and bars and fraternal clubs can allow smoking so long as children are not permitted.
Mark Dobson, president and CEO of the Warsaw/Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce, said his organization conducted seminars to help educate businesses on the new rules.
He said that with the small number of places that will allow smoking, it would have been easier to require signs only where smoking is legal.
Neither Warsaw nor Kosciusko County had local smoking rules, Dobson said, as officials preferred a statewide ban that was consistent for all areas. He added that there was a marketing campaign to try to persuade businesses to go smoke-free on their own.
One such business in the region was the Sleepy Owl in Syracuse near Lake Wawasee. Chip Erwin, a bartender, said the restaurant and bar hires a lot of people younger than 21 and serves families.
“We have some smokers and regulars who are a little upset about it, but in the long term I think we’ll see a net increase in business,” he said. “Some people won’t bring children into an environment with smoking.”
He said the restaurant will continue to allow smoking on its outdoor patio.
Greg Jacquay is taking the same approach at his business in New Haven. The owner of Trion Tavern said going smoke-free is inevitable, and he was close to making the decision to do so on his own. The state rules gave him that extra incentive to do it.
“If you look at my total clientele, you are lucky if 2 (percent) to 3 percent are smoking,” he said. “The only reason people smoke here in New Haven is because they can.”
He said allowing smoking would have hurt the use of his banquet room and family dining area, which he said has allowed generations to enjoy eating at the downtown establishment.
Jacquay said he had several smoke-free events over the years, all of which have had great attendance. The reason, he said, is what he provides.
“We are a craft beer bar,” he said. “Craft beer and smoke do not go together.”
Although the changes in laws take place today, business owners shouldn’t expect to start receiving tickets on Monday.
Poindexter, with the state’s alcohol-tobacco commission, said because there will be confusion regarding what is required, his agency is going to focus on educating people before taking a hard line. He said written warnings will be issued initially, “for an undetermined period of time,” to people in violation to help them get in compliance.
Of course this isn’t a ticket to flout the law, as he said repeat offenders will be cited. The state law makes violations a Class B infraction, which is a fine of up to $1,000. Repeat offenders can be given a Class A infraction, which means a fine of up to $10,000.
Those fines, however, differ greatly from those in Fort Wayne, where businesses are required to get a warning for the first violation and then fines go to $100, $500 and $2,500 on subsequent citations. Individuals under the city rules can be fined $25 for a first violation, $100 for a second and $250 for each additional violation.
Which fine a person or business gets depends on which agency is doing the enforcement. Poindexter said his officers will be enforcing only the state law, so they can’t ticket bars that break only the city ordinance.
Jim Murua, deputy fire chief, said his department doesn’t enforce state rules, meaning it will issue tickets in the lesser amount for people who violate the city smoking ban.
While Poindexter agreed this could cause confusion, it should be fairly simple for the enforcement agencies. Each has pledged to work with the other in passing along complaints related to the other’s rules.
Neither, however, expects compliance to be a problem.
“That’s what we’ve seen in other states; voluntary compliance seems to be pretty good,” he said.