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Published: Friday, 5/25/2012

Clearing the air

The latest -- and, it's to be hoped, last -- time-wasting legal challenge to Ohio's ban on indoor smoking in public places and at work sites has failed utterly. State and local law enforcement agencies, public health officials, business regulators, and elected leaders now must fully carry out the will of voters.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week that the state's Smoke- Free Workplace Act, which voters strongly approved in 2006, does not amount to an unconstitutional taking of private property, as a handful of scofflaw bar owners and a libertarian legal center argued. The high court consists of six Republicans and a Democrat.

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, writing for the court, called the indoor smoking ban "a valid exercise of the state's police power by Ohio voters." The Toledo jurist said the law "does not amount to a regulatory taking."

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"The goal of this legislation is to protect the health of the workers and other citizens of Ohio" from the dangers of secondhand smoke in enclosed spaces, she wrote. "It does so by regulating proprietors of public places and places of employment in a minimally invasive way."

The court noted that opponents have offered no credible evidence that the smoking ban has hurt business in Ohio. To the contrary, a state study last year concluded that bar and restaurant revenue in Ohio has continued to rise despite the ban -- not to mention the recession.

Citations under the law are based on complaints. The lead plaintiff in the case challenging the ban, a bar in Columbus, racked up more than $33,000 in fines between 2007 and 2009 for breaking the law and allowing patrons to smoke.

The bar's owner has refused to pay. Given the Supreme Court's decisive opinion, suspension of the bar's liquor license until it complies with the law would be a justified penalty.

A former Toledo bar owner, similarly defiant, told The Blade he has no intention of paying the fines he incurred under the ban. If he continues to ignore the citations, regulators should accept his implicit invitation to start the process of attaching his property.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says scofflaws "should get the message and comply" with the smoking ban. His office should be prepared to give violators all the help they need, promptly and emphatically, to obey the law.

At the same time, the General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich's administration must make sure that the state budget includes enough money to enforce the ban effectively. Local officials must collect the fines they assess, not merely settle for a small fraction as they do now.

The state Health Department says that after the smoking ban took effect in 2007, the number of discharges of heart-attack victims from Ohio hospitals fell by 26 percent. It's reasonable to link the two phenomena, department officials say.

Polls suggest that public support for the smoking ban remains high. Yet the percentage of Ohioans who smoke is rising, even though smoking is the primary cause of one-fifth of deaths in the state.

The indoor smoking ban is good law that promotes the health of Ohioans without impairing business or economic growth. Tougher enforcement of the ban will advance the state's vital interests.



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