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Published: 11/8/2006

Ohio backs tough ban on smoking

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Ohio voters put out the "No smoking" and "No slot machine" signs yesterday, but welcomed a higher minimum wage for the poorest of its workers.

With about 60 percent of the statewide vote reporting, it appeared voters saw through the haze of dueling proposals on indoor public smoking. They rejected Issue 4, the proposal financed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. that would have written smoking protections into the Ohio Constitution.

Voters instead endorsed Issue 5, a new law pushed by the American Cancer Society and other health organizations that will ban smoking in nearly all public places, including bars and restaurants, once state lawmakers write the rules to imple-ment it.

If both issues had passed, Issue 4 would have immediately rendered the stricter Issue 5's statute unconstitutional along with anti-smoking ordinances in Toledo, Columbus, Bowling Green, Wauseon, and 17 other cities.

Issue 4's weaker ban would have exempted bars, restaurants with separate enclosed smoking areas, bowling alleys, bingo halls, racetracks, some private clubs, and any business that placed itself off limits to minors.

Sandra Rhoades, a 61-year-old Sylvania Township voter, wasn't confused. She got the message: "No on 4, Yes on 5."

"If you paid attention to who was behind Issue 4, you knew exactly where they were coming from," she said. "The American Heart Association and doctors' groups were telling you what it was all about. I think both sides were pretty well covered in our area."

Issue 4 garnered just 36 percent of people voting, the worst showing of the four statewide ballot issues, despite a cash infusion of $5.4 million from R.J. Reynolds. Issue 5 had the approval of 58 percent.

The more than $20 million wagered on Issue 3 by seven racetracks and two Cleveland developers didn't pay off. Offering up to 31,500 slot machines in the state, Issue 3 was failing with just a 41 percent favorable vote.

After failing twice in the 1990s, supporters this time had dangled the carrot of college scholarships and local economic development before voters.

Late in the game, supporters tried to piggyback onto the much more popular Issue 2 minimum-wage proposal, airing ads touting economic benefits for both and dropping all references to gambling.

While both issues were backed by labor, the coalition behind Issue 2 also included members of the faith community who oppose gambling and objected to the gambit.

Voters gave their strongest support to Issue 2, one of six minimum-wage amendments on state ballots across the country. By a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, voters agreed to write a $1.70-per-hour pay raise into the Ohio Constitution.

Beginning Jan. 1, the hourly wage would climb from the federal minimum of $5.15 to $6.85 and would be adjusted every year thereafter to accommodate for inflation.

The hike was opposed by many Ohio businesses that claimed language in the amendment could endanger the private information of minimum-wage workers, an argument Issue 2 supporters disputed.

Issue 1, a proposed repeal of a workers' compensation law, was removed from the electronic ballot, and votes for and against it were not counted.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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