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Published: Sunday, 10/1/2006

Smoking-ban battle takes shape in Ohio

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU
Bowling alleys would be exempt from smoking restrictions if Issue 4 is approved by voters. Bowling alleys would be exempt from smoking restrictions if Issue 4 is approved by voters.
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COLUMBUS - In this corner, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the corporation that makes billions selling a product.

In this corner, the American Cancer Society, the nonprofit organization that spends millions battling a disease caused by that product.

The two are the deep pockets behind a pair of competing smoking bans headed for a ballot showdown on Nov. 7 in Ohio, the latest stage in a long-term national strategy for both.

Issue 5, pushed by a coalition of health organizations called SmokeFreeOhio, would enact a voter-initiated law to prohibit smoking in all indoor public establishments with few exceptions. Issue 4, the Smoke Less Ohio alternative pushed by the tobacco and hospitality industries, would use the Ohio Constitution to carve out protections for bars, some restaurants, and other establishments.

If both issues pass, the constitutional amendment would prevail over Issue 5's initiated law and overturn existing bans in Toledo, Bowling Green, and 19 other cities.

Who better to do battle with Big Tobacco than the cancer society, asked Shirley Dwyer, a West Toledo resident who helped gather the signatures to put the strict SmokeFreeOhio on the ballot.

At 71, she recalls seeing her mother suffering from emphysema and dependent on an oxygen tank. Her mother didn't smoke. Her father did.

"I had bronchitis since I was 5," she said. "In those days, parents didn't know the dangers of second-hand smoke like we do today. The surgeon general says there's no safe level. Now I know so many with smoking-related illnesses."

Debbie Kuhn, bartender at both Hubs Tavern in Swanton and the Village Tavern in Delta, isn't happy that money she's contributed to the tax-exempt cancer society is being used to push a broad statewide smoking ban that she fears will undermine the taverns' business and take money out of her pocket.

"Instead of putting money into banning smoking, why don't they put it into research to get that beautiful miracle pill or patch that truly does work," she said. "Eight out of every 10 people who smoke want to quit, but they can't."

A smoker, she said she and other bartenders and waiters understand the risks associated with working at a bar or restaurant that allows smoking, much as a factory worker knows there are hazards associated with his job.

R.J. Reynolds, the North Carolina-based maker of such cigarette brands as Winston and Camel, has pledged an unprecedented $40 million for Election Day battles involving dueling smoking bans in Ohio and Arizona and higher cigarette taxes in California and Missouri.

"We feel smokers are being increasingly disenfranchised," R.J. Reynolds spokesman Craig Fischel said. "Twenty-two percent of the population smokes, and more and more their opinions are not heard on issues that affect them. With cigarette taxes, states raise the tax on a few to pay for programs for the many. They're taking away the

places in public where smokers can still smoke. We feel it would be appropriate that there are adult-only facilities like bars where adults would still be able to smoke.

"If 90 percent of business owners' clientele smokes, they should be allowed to permit smoking."

Mr. Fischel declined to reveal how big a slice of its $40 million pie would be served in Ohio, but Smoke Less Ohio has said it wants as much of it as possible. Although the coalition also counts among its members Lorillard Tobacco Co., the North Carolina manufacturer of the Newport and Kent brands among others, it has said R.J. Reynolds has been its predominant benefactor to date.

R.J. Reynolds provided the bulk of $1.5 million spent just to pay for the gathering of signatures to put Issue 4 on the ballot. However, exactly how much R.J. Reynolds has contributed to the cause is unknown because the funds are being funneled through a single nonprofit corporation that is not required to identify its donors under Ohio law.

"If you look at our mission of fighting cancer, we save lives. We're not hiding our involvement in our campaign," said Susan Jagers, vice president of government relations for the American Cancer Society of Ohio. "Their mission is making people addicted to their product to make money, and they're trying to hide behind Smoke Less Ohio."

The cancer society footed almost the entire $300,000 tab for two rounds of petition circulation to put the SmokeFreeOhio proposal to lawmakers and then before voters.

Most of its contributions came in the form of cancer society staff time.

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


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