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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

State must add fine print, enforcement to new no-smoking law

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Smokers in bars, restaurants, and most other businesses must stamp out their cigarettes by Dec. 7, but it could be half a year before those who defy the law face the threat of fines.

The new law voters approved Tuesday calls for the Ohio Department of Health to hammer out details on how complaints would be handled, who would investigate, and how far outdoors smokers must step away from entrances and exits.

"Smoking will not be allowed [as of Dec. 7], but the enforcement provisions won't be enacted because no rules are in place yet," department spokesman Jay Carey said. "We have six months to promulgate the rules."

The law, as approved by voters, sets a maximum fine of $100 for smokers and between $100 to $2,500 for businesses that repeatedly violate the law. The state must determine the increments that the business fines would escalate with each offense.

"We've looked at the other 14 states that have smoke-free laws and the statewide compliance rate has been very high," SmokeFreeOhio spokesman Tracy Sabetta said. "We've gotten rid of the loopholes. This is essentially a self-enforcing, complaint-driven law."

Bill Anderson, owner of Dale's Bar and Grill at Conant and Dudley streets in Maumee, plans to go entirely smoke-free on Dec. 1, about a week before the ban's effective date.

"It would have been tough to go nonsmoking with my neighbors allowing smoking," he said. "This way, it doesn't make me the bad guy. Everybody's in the same boat."

Only 35.7 percent of voters preferred Issue 4, a weaker ban pushed by the tobacco and hospitality industries that would have written into the Ohio Constitution the right of bars, restaurants with separate enclosed smoking areas, and several other locations to allow smoking if they wish.

It also would have overruled anti-smoking ordinances in 21 cities, including Toledo.

By comparison, 58.3 percent supported Issue 5, the strict proposal backed by the American Cancer Society and other health organizations.

The few exceptions to Issue 5's ban include tobacco-specialty shops, a limited number of hotel and motel rooms, and private clubs that don't serve the public or have nonmember employees.

Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's Lounge at 309 W. Alexis Rd., said the fight is not over.

He openly defied Toledo's Issue 5-like ban, repeatedly paying fines before voters weakened the ban in 2004.

He declined to say yesterday whether he would defy Issue 5, but he predicted pressure would mount for lawmakers to intervene.

Unlike Issue 4's constitutional amendment, which could only be changed by another amendment, Issue 5 is an initiated statute that could be changed at any time like any other law.

"We were going in that direction to start with," he said. "We were making headway, except the legislature didn't have the [nerve] to do anything."

He said he hopes to build a patio outside his lounge, complete with heating units if necessary, to accommodate smoking customers.

Andrew and Pam Weisenburger, two nonsmokers from South Toledo, did their homework on the competing bans, but ultimately canceled out each other's votes.

Mrs. Weisenburger preferred Issue 5.

"In the long run, it ends up costing taxpayers a lot of money for health care for people suffering from the effects of smoking," she said. "If smoking is so terrible, let's make it so it doesn't happen in public."

But Mr. Weisenburger, an attorney, saw the debate as a personal rights issue.

"If people want to smoke, they should be permitted to smoke," he said.

"Other patrons know where there is smoke in bars or restaurants or wherever. If they don't want to be exposed to that, they can choose to avoid those places."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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