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Published: Thursday, 9/28/2006

Looser ban on smoking makes Ohio ballot; competing, stricter plan also to go before voters

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS The smoking-ban war is on.

The Ohio secretary of state s office yesterday certified an exemption-laden proposal for the Nov. 7 ballot. Voters will choose between that proposal which would exempt bars, restaurants with separate enclosed smoking areas, bowling alleys, and a menu of other locations and a strict prohibition on lighting up in nearly all indoor public places. Or voters may opt for no ban at all.

We re not surprised they made the ballot, said Tracy Sabetta, spokesman for the strict SmokeFreeOhio proposal, which would appear as Issue 5 on the ballot. The weaker ban, Smoke Less Ohio, would be Issue 4.

They defrauded voters into signing petitions from the very beginning, Ms. Sabetta said. R.J. Reynolds is trying to buy itself a page in the Ohio Constitution. The task over the next 45 days is to tell voters these are two different proposals and that Issue 4 does not protect public health or level the playing field. If Issue 4 wins, we all lose.

Unlike SmokeFreeOhio, whose mission is to convince voters to approve Issue 5 and reject Issue 4, the weaker Smoke Less Ohio ban simply has to make sure its own proposal passes.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, Smoke Less Ohio s Issue 4 exemption-laden ban pushed by the tobacco and hospitality industries would trump the stricter SmokeFreeOhio s Issue 5 initiated statute, even if the latter garners more votes.

The constitutional amendment also would overrule stricter clean indoor air laws already on the books in Toledo, Bowling Green, Columbus, and 18 other cities.

What is being put on the ballot is what Ohioans want, said Smoke Less Ohio spokesman Jacob Evans. They want a reasonable, common-sense approach.

Supporters of the weaker proposal argue that it still would prohibit smoking in 90 percent of indoor workplaces frequented by the public and would protect jobs in bars and restaurants that fear the loss of smokers business.

Opponents, led by the American Cancer Society, counter that the weaker ban would continue to expose 500,000 workers in bars, restaurants, and other exempted businesses to second-hand smoke.

Smoke Free Ohio plans to remind voters at every opportunity that the major financial backer of the weaker ban is R.J. Reynolds, the North Carolina-based manufacturer of such cigarette brands as Camel, Winston, and Salem.

The ballot landscape could still change. Challenges to petitions on both sides are pending in the Ohio Supreme Court and secretary of state s office. At this point, it would take a court decision to remove either issue from the ballot.

Two other proposed constitutional amendments have been certified for the ballot, a slots-for-scholarships proposal and a hike in Ohio s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85.

An effort to ask voters to repeal portions of a new law reducing benefits for some injured workers came up short on petition signatures, according to the secretary of state s office. But court maneuvering last night prevented the office from denying the issue a spot on the ballot while legal fights continue.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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