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Published: Friday, 7/28/2006

More signatures will be filed to back Ohio smoke-ban vote

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A coalition of health organizations seeking a nearly complete ban on smoking in indoor public places will file its second round of signatures this morning to put the issue before voters on the Nov. 7 ballot.

It also plans to unveil an advertising campaign urging Ohioans not to sign petitions being circulated by an organization backed by the hospitality and tobacco industry for a weaker smoking ban exempting bars, restaurants with separate smoking rooms, and bowling alleys.

SmokeFreeOhio, backed by organizations like the American Cancer Society, is seeking to initiate the ban as a state law after lawmakers did nothing when a first round of signatures put the issue before them earlier this year.

Just under 97,000 signatures must survive scrutiny as those of registered Ohio voters in order for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to certify the question for the ballot.

The organization is proceeding according to plan despite the fact that court challenges are still pending. A Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge found some petitions to be invalid because they listed the cancer society as the employer of paid signature gatherers rather than the private firm the society hired. The decision is still under appeal.

With few exceptions, the strict ban would prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces, bowling alleys, and just about all other indoor places where the public congregates.

The competing proposal called Smoke Less Ohio is expected to file petitions by Aug. 9 for its constitutional amendment enacting the weaker ban. If both questions reach the ballot and pass, the constitutional amendment would trump the initiated statute, regardless of which one gets the most votes.



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