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Published: Saturday, 10/30/2004

Toledo voters to render decision on smoking restrictions

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The battle to amend Toledo's smoking ban has pitted arguments about economics and business owners' rights against health and worker safety.

Issue 4 on Tuesday's ballot will allow voters to decide whether Toledo's existing smoking ban, which was passed last July by a unanimous City Council vote, should be scaled back to allow smoking in most bars and many restaurants.

Issue 4, which was placed on the ballot as an initiative after 16,000 signatures were gathered at area bars and restaurants, would revise Toledo's existing Clean Indoor Air Ordinance to allow smoking in bowling alleys, bingo parlors, and bars that receive less than 35 percent of their income from food. In addition, it would allow smoking lounges in restaurants to be as large as half the square footage of the service area and allow smoking in restaurants with nine or fewer employees.

Bar and restaurant owners are putting forth the amendment as a jobs issue, claiming that Toledo's existing smoking ban has caused many Toledo bars and restaurants to close or lose significant business because patrons either stay home or go to surrounding cities where smoking in bars and restaurants is unrestricted.

"A 'yes' vote on Issue 4 will keep tax dollars in Toledo, and bring jobs and customers back to Toledo," said Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Saloon and one of the leading members of Citizens for Common Sense, a group of bar, restaurant, and bowling alley owners responsible for putting Issue 4 on the ballot. "While 98 percent of restaurants in Toledo will still have smoke-free dining, adult destinations such as taverns, bingo halls, bowling centers, and small diners will be able to make a decision about smoking according to their own customers' needs and wants."

Those who oppose Issue 4 - including the mayor, the large majority of City Council, and a consortium of health organizations including the American Cancer Society, American Heart and Lung associations, and all four major local hospital systems - say the amendment would weaken Toledo's existing smoking ban to the point where it would be ineffectual and irrelevant.

"The amendment would lead to widespread smoking in restaurants and other public places, which is a real step backward for Toledo," said Toledo Law Director Barb Herring, speaking for the city.

Opponents say that the economic statistics claimed by bar owners cannot be independently verified and that there is little evidence of a drop in area business. They also claim that loss of productivity and increased health-care costs caused by smoking actually increase the economic burden on Toledo.

But for them the main issue is, and always has been, health: The health of patrons, waiters, waitresses, and other workers who are exposed to secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants.

They point to conclusions put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Heart and Lung associations, and the American Cancer Society that secondhand smoke is responsible for thousands of deaths a year and increases the risk of illness from heart disease, cancer, asthma, and stroke.

And they say that if Issue 4 passed, it would again create significant health risks for bar and restaurant patrons and workers.

"The amendment would once again require people to choose between their health and their job," said Stu Kerr, regional coordinator of Tobacco-Free Ohio.

"A 'no' vote on Issue 4 preserves the rights of Toledoans to breathe smoke-free air. A 'no' vote on Issue 4 will preserve health, lives, jobs, and save on health-care costs," said Terry Carey, campaign coordinator for Citizens for a Healthy Toledo, representing health and hospital groups opposed to Issue 4.

Just as health groups challenge the bar owners' economic statistics, bar owners, in turn, challenge the health findings on secondhand smoke, saying they are either inconclusive or based on studies that are not conducted by neutral parties. "There are all sorts of studies on both sides. If it's such a health issue, why are they still allowing the sale of tobacco products?" Mr. Elzey said. "Our help is voluntary; they know the consequences and they voluntarily work in a smoking establishment."

Both proponents and opponents of the amendment say they worry voters will not realize what a "yes" vote on Issue 4 will mean: Since a "yes" vote would go toward passing bar owners' proposed amendment, a "yes" would in effect weaken the city's existing smoking ban and allow smoking in more places.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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