INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House on Monday, Jan. 31, approved a statewide smoking ban that includes exemptions for casinos, bars, clubs and even nursing homes.

Now the real work begins for the Hoosier Faith and Health Coalition, a part of the Greater Indiana Campaign for Smoke-free Air, who have to balance their desire to remove those loopholes trying to move the bill through the Senate, where similar proposals have died before.

The House voted 68-31 to approve the bill on the same day that nearly 300 smoke-free air advocates gathered at the Statehouse to urge lawmakers to support the bill. Advocates applauded when House members said they wanted to tighten up the bill.

No one spoke against the bill Jan. 31, though opponents have previously raised objections of too much government intervention and concerns of lost business.

Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster said people who work in smoke-filled environments shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their health.

“The time has come,” she said. “It’s 100 percent about workplace safety.”

Bill sponsor Representative Charlie Brown of Gary said he hopes some of the exemptions are removed as the bill moves through the legislative process.

The exemptions for casinos and horse racing tracks were approved earlier in January after the Legislative Services Agency said banning smoking in gambling establishments could cost the cash-strapped state about $190 million a year.

The House later voted to exempt bars that only admit adults over age 21 after some lawmakers argued that it was unfair to exempt casinos without exempting bars. They said bars located near casinos could lose business if smokers decided to hang out at casinos instead of at bars.

Lawmakers also made exceptions for nursing homes and fraternal clubs after some said veterans and those living in nursing homes should have the right to smoke in certain areas.

While some health advocates say they would not support a bill with so many exemptions, Brown says compromise is part of the legislative process. The exemptions – especially those for bars and casinos – will give the bill a better chance of passing the Senate, said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long said last week that the smoking ban proposal will get a Senate committee hearing this year, which might be the bill’s best chance of passing in years. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports a ban and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says he’d sign a statewide smoking ban into law if legislators approve it.