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Published: Sunday, 12/30/2007

Bar customers encounter smoke ban's chilling effects

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Pam Gregory, left, lights up on the patio at the Anchor Inn on Suder Avenue. Plastic panels break wind gusts blowing off the Ottawa River. Pam Gregory, left, lights up on the patio at the Anchor Inn on Suder Avenue. Plastic panels break wind gusts blowing off the Ottawa River.
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Outdoor patios are helping smokers cope with the smoking ban, but winter's temperatures may test their mettle

As winter snow flies and winds blow, smokers are huddling on partially sheltered patios, around outdoor heaters and fires - or in cars - to ward off the chill while obeying Ohio's law banning smoking in most public places.

At least some of them are.

The number of Lucas County bars that have received civil fines for violating the smoke ban has increased to 14 in recent weeks, although some past violators now are diligent about following the law and directing customers outdoors.

Lucas County appears to have some of the strongest holdouts in the state since enforcement of the year-old ban began in May.

Only Montgomery County has received more reports of smoking-ban violations than Lucas County, which accounts for about 1,000 of the state's roughly 21,000 reports received since enforcement began, according to recent state statistics.

While outdoor patios at bars and restaurants were popular spots for smokers after enforcement of the ban began, inclement winter weather may test whether their use will continue.

"In the wintertime, it remains to be seen whether [patios] are going to be used or not," said Alan Ruffell, director of environmental health for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

Outside Claddagh s at Westfield Franklin Park, cigarette butts litter a fire pit used to warm smokers.
Outside Claddagh s at Westfield Franklin Park, cigarette butts litter a fire pit used to warm smokers.
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By law, patios or other outdoor structures with roofs must have half their side areas open, and inspectors can cite establishments that do not meet that criteria.

Smokers do not have to be a set distance from entrances, but smoke is not allowed to infiltrate buildings.

The Anchor Inn on Suder Avenue, which was warned and then fined $100 for smoking-ban violations this year, installed heavy plastic panels on its patio to break gusts from the Ottawa River.

Still, Anchor Inn regular Pam Gregory, who lives near the establishment, said she doesn't go there as often or stay as long as she used to because of the cold.

How Ohio can deem smoking in public places illegal when the state allows businesses to sell cigarettes - and collect tax revenues from them - doesn't make sense, she and others said.

"I bought them legally, I paid their sales tax, and now they're telling me I don't have the right to smoke them? It's ridiculous," Ms. Gregory said.

Bars should never have been included in the smoking ban because adults can choose whether they want to go to a place where smokers hang out, and those searching for jobs can too, said Anchor Inn customer Chris Cieslewski of Toledo.

"If it's a health issue, they should ban the cigarettes," he said.

At Zinger's Food & Spirits on Matzinger Road, another Toledo bar that has been fined $100, smokers on a recent night were puffing away in their cars. An employee told one man at the bar who pulled out a cigarette to use the patio, where a tent with a portable heater was erected last month.

Most smokers head outside without protest, said Jessica O'Brien, manager of Zinger's.

"For the most part, everyone's been good about it," she said. "We still have people who smoke come in and say, 'Well, then, we're leaving,' or, 'This bar's still smoking, so we're going to go there.'•"

Recent additions to the growing list of Lucas County bars that have received letters notifying owners of civil fines are D&M Southwyck Lounge at 5345 Heatherdowns Blvd., Daffy's Thirsty Duck at 5134 Lewis Ave., and the Pour House at 4301 Bennett Road.

Local health departments are charged with investigating complaints about violations and warning letters are issued to first-time offenders.

Repeat smokers are fined $100 each time, while establishments that continue to violate the ban are fined $100 to $2,500, depending on the number of incidents.

During the first winter under the ban's enforcement, bars have various ways to help smoking customers cope with frigid temperatures.

The Good Times Sports Bar & Grill on Jackman Road spent $70,000 a few years ago to build an enclosed smoking room initially allowed under the city of Toledo's smoking ban.

But after the passage of the statewide ban, such smoking rooms were deemed illegal so owner Xenios Xenofontos said he spent more than $30,000 to alter the space to be a patio with heaters to conform with the Ohio ban.

Still, Mr. Xenofontos said his business is down from a year ago as smokers head over the border to Michigan, a complaint echoed by other bar owners.

Mr. Xenofontos is considering banding bar owners together and asking the city to at least partially reimburse them for money spent trying to comply with Toledo's smoking ban.

"The only thing that they can help us little guys is give us some of the money back," he said.

Katerina Bekyarska, a city spokesman, said it would be in the bar owners' right to make such a proposal, but she noted the statewide smoking ban that eliminated smoking rooms the city once allowed was approved by Ohio voters - and not a city action.

Similar to what has occurred with the patio at Mr. Xenofontos' bar, other outdoor patios have been upgraded to accommodate smokers.

The outdoor patio bar at South End Bar & Grille on Glendale Avenue is sheltered by a roof and the building, so smokers typically head there, said Gary Zimmerman, manager.

Claddagh's Irish Pub at Westfield Franklin Park was built with a fire pit in the patio, and it is lit nightly for smokers to gather around.

In warmer months, though, smoking is not allowed on the patio unless the crowd is sparse enough for parties to be separated, said Athena Kostoulakis, general manager of Claddagh's.

"A lot of smokers feel left out, especially in Toledo - especially in the winter time," she said.

The ban has taken rights from smokers because they have to go outside, said Anchor Inn customer Kathy Gable of Point Place.

"It's not bad in the summer, but in the winter, it gets pretty tough," she said. "I feel really offended I can't enjoy myself like everyone else can."

Doreen Laas, co-owner of the Anchor Inn, said patrons adhere to the smoking ban and use the patio out of respect for her, but there are rare lapses. Co-owner Sam Laas, her husband, said they want to appeal the civil fine the bar received.

Lighting up with a drink is a hard habit to break, and some customers are older or don't walk well, Ms. Laas said.

"I just cringe every time I see them have to walk outside to smoke in the cold and then walk back," she said. "I feel like it's my fault."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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