COLUMBUS — Ohio’s strict ban on smoking in indoor public places is constitutional and enforceable, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously today.
The high court called the voter-passed law “a valid exercise of the state’s police power” and rejected the argument of a Columbus tavern cited 10 times and fined $33,000 that it amounts to a regulatory taking of its business.
“Although the Smoke Free Act was ultimately passed pursuant to a ballot initiative, the voters of Ohio also have a legitimate purpose in protecting the general welfare and health of Ohio citizens and workforce from the dangers of secondhand smoke in enclosed public places,” Justice Judith Lanzinger, of Toledo, wrote.
“By requiring that proprietors of public places and places of employment take reasonable steps to prevent smoking on their premises by posting ‘no smoking’ signs, removing ashtrays, and requesting patrons to stop smoking, the act is rationally related to its stated objective,” she wrote. “Although appellants complain that the Smoke Free Act is not being enforced against actual smokers themselves, the evidence establishes that [the Ohio Department of Health] has not received a complaint against an individual smoker.”
Zeno’s Victorian Tavern argued that enforcement of the law by the health department represented a taking of the bar’s business and improperly focused on the business rather than the individual smoker who also violates the law. No individual smoker has been cited while numerous businesses, mostly bars, have.
The state countered that the law puts a greater burden on the business because an individual smoker can’t be cited unless they first ignore a warning from the business to snuff out the cigarette.
Ohio became the first Midwestern state in 2006 to approve a ban on smoking in any indoor establishment with at least one employee and invites the public inside. Enforcement began in 2007.
The ban applies to offices, bars, restaurants, enclosed arenas, and any other workplace with few exceptions. In most cases, the Department of Health delegates enforcement to local officials. Zeno’s was cited by the Columbus Health Department.
Business violators receive a warning upon the first offense and are cited for each subsequent offense with fines escalating for chronic offenders.