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Published: Saturday, 9/30/2006

Anti-smoking bans vie for votes; weaker Issue 4 would supersede law in Toledo, other cities

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - If advocates of a near-total ban on smoking in indoor public places have their way, voters will be chanting "No on 4, Yes on 5" in their sleep by time Nov. 7 rolls around.

SmokeFreeOhio yesterday unveiled its campaign to persuade voters to approve its issue and simultaneously reject a competing proposal pushed by the tobacco and hospitality industries.

"If Issue 4 wins, we lose. We all lose our right to breathe smoke-free air," said Tracy Sabetta, spokesman for SmokeFreeOhio, a coalition of health organizations.

If both issues pass, Issue 4 would prevail because it is a constitutional amendment while SmokeFreeOhio is an initiated statute that would become state law. This would occur even if Issue 5 attracts more votes.

Issue 4 would supersede bans in Toledo, Bowling Green, Columbus, and 18 other cities and prohibit future state or local laws.

"R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies are trying to wrap up their pro-smoking constitutional amendment and pass it off to Ohio voters as a public health policy, but no matter how you try to gussy it up, it still smells the same," Ms. Sabetta said. "It's not a public health policy. It's an attempt to put smoking sections in Ohio's constitution."

Smoke Less Ohio, the coalition behind the weaker ban, has reserved $3 million in television time, Ms. Sabetta said. She declined to disclose how much media time SmokeFreeOhio has reserved, calling it "significant" but less than Smoke Less Ohio's.

Smoke Less Ohio spokesman Jacob Evans would not confirm Ms. Sabetta's numbers, saying only that the organization would spend what is necessary. He said his coalition has no plans to simply flip the opposition's logo to "Yes on 4, No on 5" to undermine SmokeFreeOhio's attempts to clarify the two is-sues in voters' minds.

"Confusion doesn't work for us on this one," he said. "[Issue 4] is a reasonable, common-sense approach. Tying ourselves to a sinking ship like SmokeFreeOhio doesn't do us any good."

Smoke Less Ohio argues that 90 percent of Ohio workplaces would be smoke-free under its proposal.

As an initiated statute, the stricter Issue 5 would force the Ohio General Assembly to pass a law requiring those who light up to step outside and away from the entrance of an office or business that's open to the public.

Smoke Less Ohio's Issue 5 would exempt bars, restaurants with separate enclosed smoking sections, bowling alleys, bingo halls, race tracks, private clubs not open to the public, and any establishment that prohibits minors.

For all intents and purposes, the election begins Tuesday when the first absentee ballots are cast.

Both issues still have legal challenges pending to petitions that put them on the ballot.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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