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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2011

Uphold smoking ban

Five years ago, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a state law that bans smoking in workplaces, including bars, restaurants, and clubs. Since then, Ohioans' support for, and compliance with, the law has continued to grow.

Even so, the ban has been challenged — and defied — by a handful of disgruntled business owners who dress up concerns for their own wallets with spurious arguments about the law's constitutionality. The Ohio Supreme Court finally has an opportunity to affirm the ban. It should do so, and Gov. John Kasich's administration should budget the money needed to enforce the law effectively.

Since the ban took effect in 2007, state and local health departments have levied more than $1.2 million in fines against businesses for infractions, although no smoker has been cited. The case before the Supreme Court involves a Columbus bar owner who says such enforcement is discriminatory and violates his private-property rights.

Businesses in Ohio that are open to the public must obey state laws that regulate behavior inside their establishments, including the smoking ban. Health officials say it's hard to cite individual violations because inspectors must observe a smoker lighting up or ignoring a bartender's request to stop or leave.

The bar in the high-court case has been cited 10 times for such things as tolerating smoking in prohibited areas, providing ashtrays for patrons, and failing to post no-smoking signs. Instead of contesting these citations, the bar owner chose to ignore the law and wrap himself in the Constitution.

The ban serves a vital public purpose: to protect Ohioans, both employees and customers, from the health effects of secondhand smoke. The assertion that entrepreneurs own the air inside businesses patronized by the public, and can decide for themselves how it is used as a matter of property rights, is ludicrous.

It is equally disturbing that, according to the American Cancer Society, Gov. Kasich's proposed state budget would eliminate financial support the Ohio Department of Health needs to enforce the law. That $1.1 million expenditure includes the costs of ensuring compliance and maintaining a complaint line that enables Ohioans to report violations. Without such enforcement, businesses would have no incentive to obey the ban.

The state Supreme Court needs to uphold the smoke-free workplace law. And the governor's office and lawmakers must provide the funding to enforce it.

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