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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

Statewide smoking ban showdown takes shape


COLUMBUS - A showdown over a statewide smoking ban moved closer to reality yesterday.

Attorney General Jim Petro yesterday approved language that a business coalition intends to place on petitions it will ask at least 320,000 registered voters to sign. The coalition includes bars, restaurants, retailers, and racetracks.

The petitions would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot, an alternative to a much stricter indoor smoking ban being pushed by SmokeFreeOhio, a coalition of health organizations.

"This is another step towards giving Ohio voters a real choice in November about our state's smoking policy," said Jacob Evans, lobbyist for the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and a leader of the business group.

"Our polling has shown us that Ohioans prefer a reasonable smoking policy over a total smoking ban," he said. "We plan to give them that option."

The constitutional amendment would permit smoking in bars, bowling areas, restaurants with enclosed smoking areas, bingo halls, racetracks, and designated smoking rooms in hotels and nursing homes. The stricter proposal, following the more time-consuming initiated-statute route, would ban smoking in nearly all indoor places frequented by the general public.

As a constitutional amendment, the business coalition's proposal would trump the initiated statute if voters should approve both at the polls. The amendment also would overrule bans enacted locally either through ordinance or referendum, including those in Toledo and Bowling Green.

"Everyone has the right to breathe indoor clean air at work and in public places," said Tracy Sabetta, SmokeFreeOhio co-chairman. "There are 534,000 hospitality workers in Ohio. The Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and tobacco companies are pushing an amendment that would literally make it unconstitutional to protect them from secondhand smoke on the job."

SmokeFreeOhio gathered about 100,000 signatures to place the proposed law before the General Assembly. Once a four-month deadline for legislative action passes at the beginning of May, it will launch a second round of petitions to put the question directly to voters.

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