The Auburn Town Tavern in Auburn has two entrances. One at the front of the narrow brick building leads to the smoke-free family room. Another about halfway down the right side of the building leads to the bar where smoking is allowed.
Inside, a double archway with neon Colts and Pacers Bud Light signs separates the rooms.
Gary Hershberger of Auburn rests a hand on the wooden bar as he chats with a man in a baseball cap sipping beer on one of the bar stools.
July 1 marks Hershberger's 30th year owning and operating the Town Tavern, famous among locals for its Alaska whitefish and plate-sized pork tenderloins.
But on July 1, Indiana's first-ever smoke-free air law goes into effect, forcing Hershberger to choose between catering to smokers and catering to families.
“People were just in here talking about it today,” Hershberger said Thursday afternoon. “It could put me out of business. But we won't know until it happens.”
The new law requires most enclosed public places, workplaces and restaurants to be smoke-free unless they choose to limit their clientele to customers age 21 and older. It also requires smokers to stand at least 8 feet from entrances to nonsmoking establishments when they light up outside.
Fort Wayne will not be affected by the new law because local ordinances are already more restrictive. But the law will affect smaller cities with less restrictive local ordinances, such as Auburn, New Haven, Bluffton and Huntington.
“It's going to be a level playing field statewide, which I think is a good thing,” said Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Bluffton.
The ban's purpose is to protect employees and customers from secondhand smoke in public places and workplaces.
“In a workplace, you don't have the option to get away from someone smoking next to you,” said adult nurse practitioner Linda Kerr at the Parkview Women's Health Center.
But the ban's exemptions rather than its restrictions are causing the greatest concern. Smoking will still be allowed in most bars, taverns, membership clubs, tobacco retail shops, cigar bars, hookah bars, casinos and outdoor public places.
But business owners like Hershberger contend the smoking ban does not account for the effect exemptions will have on businesses that serve families and smokers. Unlike most taverns, Hershberger's Auburn Town Tavern permits smoking and operates as a family restaurant.
“I'll lose my smokers to another business, which isn't fair,” Hershberger said. “If they're going to make us nonsmoking, they should make everywhere nonsmoking.”
And Hershberger isn't alone. American Legion Post 243 in Ligonier sought a preliminary injunction Thursday in U.S. District Court to prevent the state from enforcing the smoking ban, arguing it is too vague and violates the equal protection clause of the state and federal constitutions.
The ban exempts private clubs, such as American Legion posts, from the smoking ban, but it also says facilities that permit smoking can't allow children to enter. According to the lawsuit, the Ligonier post permits smoking and has about 20 children in the facility each week.
The Ligonier post says the ban fails to describe with “sufficient particularity” how individuals or entities must satisfy the law.
Other business owners like Greg Jacquay, owner of the Trion Tavern in New Haven, aren't as concerned.
Jacquay decided to make the Trion smoke-free rather than close its family room. He says only 2-3 percent of his customers smoke, so it won't affectbusiness.
“It's the future,” Jacquay said. “A lot of people in here already walk outside to smoke as if they were in Fort Wayne.”
Medical professionals like Kerr say smoke-free laws in the workplace help smokers quit.
The International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project's 2008-2009 survey of more than 4,000 smokers in four European countries found that smoking bans in the workplace encourage smokers to light up less often at home.
“Anytime a community or state makes a smoke-free change, particularly in workplace settings, you suddenly have greater populations of smokers who feel backed up against a wall,” Kerr said, adding that smokers should plan with family, friends and their primary care providers before they quit.
But other Hoosiers think the smoke-free legislation debate is less about health and more about rights.
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, voted against the smoking ban because he feels it oversteps the fundamental rights of private property owners.
“When you own private property, (what you do) should be up to you,” Kruse said. “I'm not a smoker, and I don't like being around smoking, but I think the private property rights supersede the nonsmoking rights.”
Hershberger isn't a smoker either. He opened smoke-free Shorty's Steakhouse in Garrett, six years ago with his friends Lisa and Scott Walter.
“We made Shorty's nonsmoking by choice,” Hershberger said. “This is different.”