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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

The smoke begins to clear

THE smoking ends and the complaining begins. Call it Delaney's Law.

Toledo bar owner Bill Delaney has once again thumbed his nose at the notion of a ban on smoking in public places - especially his - now that it has actually taken effect.

Disregarding the wishes and the will of Ohioans who voted overwhelmingly in the Nov. 7 election for a comprehensive ban on smoking, he says he and fellow tavern keepers will plot strategy to, in his words, "take the ban down." If that means pushing the matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court, he's ready to do it.

It is absurd on its face, but it's what we have come to expect from those whose concern for public health is a distant second to their concern for the bottom line. As we have pointed out many times before, smoking bans in other states have ultimately helped, not hurt, businesses in the hospitality industry.

For that matter, we have no doubt that if Ohio's ban ever reached the Supreme Court, its constitutionality would be upheld. States have every right to regulate public health and they do it every day. Mr. Delaney's "strategy" remains simple: delay the inevitable for as long as possible.

And the inevitability is not an issue. Ohio joins 14 other states in adopting comprehensive smoking bans in public places, including workplaces, and the movement is a rolling wave that within 10 years will have extended such prohibitions nationwide. Overseas, other countries have already gone smoke-free, including Ireland, where pubs are a way of life.

Contrast Mr. Delaney's obstinate defiance with the attitude at Bob's Grill & Tavern in Lebanon, Ohio, where customers were invited to one final "Smoke 'em if you got 'em" party before the ash trays disappeared.

"[The ban] is something we've gotta do, so we're king of making light of it," explained a bartender at Bob's.

It's galling to hear Mr. Delaney complain that one of the reasons the ban passed on Nov. 7, and his own industry's watered-down version failed, was voter confusion.

There was confusion, all right, and it was put there by the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, which hoped voters would be suckered into approving Issue 4, thereby locking a much weaker ban into the Ohio Constitution.

To their everlasting credit, the voters were not fooled. The No on 4, Yes on 5 campaign, led by the American Cancer Society and other public-health organizations, made it clear what was at stake, and the voters responded. They saw through the obfuscation sown by Issue 4 proponents and repudiated it.

It's too bad that the General Assembly and its timid Republican majority failed to enact a statutory ban on its own, necessitating a public referendum, but a strong statement by the citizens of Ohio produced a better outcome anyway.

The Ohio Department of Health has until next June 7 to finalize details regarding enforcement and penalties for repeat offenders. But the ban is very much in effect, and nonsmokers can report violations directly to the state health department. Fines will be levied.

We hope that Ohio's new ban will finally motivate smokers who do want to quit to take the big step and begin to reverse the damage already done to their bodies. Help is available at the Ohio Tobacco "Quit Line," at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

We have one other fervent wish: that Michigan will follow Ohio's lead and now move toward a smoking ban of its own.



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