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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

From group's ashes may come a truly Nobel idea

“I wouldn't want to be the politician turning $30,000 for children down. We are absolutely 21-carat serious about donating.”

- Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's Lounge

TOLEDO, OHIO (From The Blade's Wire Services), January, 2010 -

Citywide celebrations were held yesterday in this Midwestern city.

Everyone from mayor to street sweeper rejoiced to learn that Toledo won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Creative Civics.

New this year, the civics category recognizes municipalities for programs or policies that represent fresh, “out of the box” thinking.

In honoring this city, the Nobel Committee cited Toledo's 2003 public smoking ban - now a nationwide public health standard - and praised city bar owners for “taking lemons and making lemonade.”

Hard as it is to imagine, just seven years ago it was considered controversial to ban public smoking. When the city of Toledo enacted such legislation, it was among the most stringent of its type.

What attracted the Nobel committee, however, wasn't the law. It was the unexpected way the law created one of the nation's biggest children's charities.

The committee wrote:

“Bar owners who balked at the ban tried to evade the law with what critics called ‘a shoddy ruse,' a charity known as Taverns for Tots. While this gambit failed to sway the courts, what began as a crackpot idea surprised everyone by turning into a legitimate fund-raiser.”

Designating themselves private, “members-only” clubs that held events for charity, bars then issued lifetime memberships, thereby skirting the public-smoking ban.

Interestingly enough, however, some of the “wink-wink” charity events held by tavern owners ended up becoming staples of Toledo life.

The quaint Ashtray Relays, where teams compete to see which is the fastest to empty overfilled cigarette butt repositories, quickly turned into a citywide favorite.

(Of course, these days, peanut shells take the place of stubbed-out butts.)

Another popular event, known as Kidz for Kancer, involves large groups of children staging walkathons from bar to bar, collecting empty cigarette packages for redemption, much the same way schools collect soup labels.

(Of course, these days, used asthma inhalers take the place of empty cigarette packs.)

The Nobel committee said it decided to recognize Toledo because of what it called Taverns for Tots' “heartfelt sincerity.”

“After the bar owners lost their legal case,” wrote the committee, “it would have been easy for them to cease their nascent fund-raising. But, as one barkeep insisted, the group was ‘absolutely 21-carat serious' about helping children - a claim borne out by the vigorous way the group continued to raise money long after they'd lost the smoking ban battle.”

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