Local business owners talk about ‘smoke-free’ and what’s changed since they made the switch

"Smoking or non?" isn't being asked in Elkhart County anymore.

Posted on July 6, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 6, 2013 at 5:22 p.m.

ELKHART — Last year, when Indiana’s smoking ban went into effect, not much changed at local businesses. Elkhart and Goshen already had local laws prohibiting smoking. Many business owners just had to worry about putting up additional signs warning customers that smoking isn’t allowed.

Fraternal organizations and private clubs can choose to be exempt from the new law, as long as no one younger than 21 enters the building. Members of the Goshen Veterans of Foreign Wars voted last year to continue allowing smokers to light up inside the club.

That changed last month when members of the Goshen VFW voted to make the club non-smoking. The change went into effect July 1. Quartermaster Dave Piehl, the member who made the motion to go smoke-free, said the club is divided over the change.

“Members who voted against the no-smoking (rule) are pretty adamant about it,” said Piehl. “It was a close vote. There’s a lot of people who are die-hard smokers and they don’t want to give that up. They forget what the real purpose of the VFW is — it’s to serve veterans and their families, not to provide a private honky-tonk for a bunch of smokers and drinkers.”

Piehl said there are plenty of members, however, who don’t like the smoking in the club and want more family-oriented activities.

“Over the course of the last year people complained that it was too smoky in (the club) and they didn’t like the atmosphere,” said Piehl.

He added that the VFW has always allowed smoking, but once members thought there was a chance to be smoke-free, some were interested.

“A lot more people are aware of the hazards of smoking now,” said Piehl. “People don’t want their children and their families around the second-hand smoke.”

Piehl said the smoky atmosphere has also turned off people looking at renting the banquet hall for private parties.

Cock-A-Doodle Cafe in Elkhart went smoke-free a few weeks before the city of Elkhart banned smoking in 2008. Owner Jack Kenney said he knew the ban was coming and decided to make the switch at his restaurant a little early. His sales went up 25 percent in the first week, and Kenney said that’s because people who had previously placed carry-out orders were staying to eat.

“It made a big difference,” Kenney said Wednesday, July 3. “Even though it’s been a few years I still have people coming in all the time saying they like the no-smoking.”

Kenney is also saving money on paint. He used to spend $400 to repaint the inside of the restaurant each January because the cigarette smoke colored the ceiling and walls brown.

“We haven’t painted since we went smoke-free,” said Kenney. “That’s a big cost savings.”

Kenney said his smoking customers weren’t happy about the new rule when it first happened.

“There were a lot of people who were upset, but they ended up getting over it,” said Kenney.

A group of Baugo Lions Club members enjoying breakfast Wednesday said they’ve been visiting Cock-A-Doodle Cafe for years and they like the smoke-free rule.

“It’s a much healthier atmosphere, and the noise is down because he (Kenney) doesn’t have the fans running,” said Tom Moon, one of the group.

Leroy Schrock, another Lions member, said he used to smoke when visiting Cock-A-Doodle but he doesn’t mind that he can’t do it inside the cafe anymore.

State funding for anti-smoking programs put on by the Elkhart County Health Department’s tobacco control section will be available for at least another few years, according to recently retired local anti-smoking advocate Mark Potuck.

Earlier this year, Potuck said state budget cuts being considered could cut funding to Tobacco Free Elkhart County by as much as 50 percent. On Tuesday, July 2, he said his office received $182,000 to fund programs over the next two years — most of the $188,000 they had requested.

“The budget cuts had a very minimal effect,” said Potuck. “The new legislature reduced (the state’s) budget from $8 million to $5 million (for anti-smoking programs). That’s a pretty hefty cut, and there’s always a possibility they could do away with our tobacco program entirely.”

He added, “I think the reason we didn’t get a larger cut is that we’ve had a pretty successful program here in Elkhart County. Our largest successes were getting the (no-smoking) ordinances passed in Goshen and Elkhart. The priority for the state tobacco commission is policy change. That’s what they really want us working on.”

Potuck said he will stay on with the health department as a contracted employee through Sept. 1 to finish a few tasks and to train his replacement. Candidates for the Elkhart County Tobacco Control project director job are currently being interviewed.

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