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B.G. session on smoking ban ends in haze

BOWLING GREEN - Bars would be excluded from a proposed public smoking ban here, but establishments that serve both food and drinks could find themselves caught in the middle.

“I consider myself a restaurant and a bar and this is telling me I've got to be one or the other,” said John Rightmyer, owner of the Junction Bar and Grill on Main Street. “I'd love to go nonsmoking in the restaurant, but why can't I, at 10 o'clock when I close the restaurant, go to smoking?”

Mr. Rightmyer made his comments last night at a sparsely attended meeting called by Andrew Schuman, chairman of the Bowling Green Clean Air Coalition. The coalition sponsored an initiative petition that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot that would ban smoking in most public places in the city.

While not nearly as restrictive as a blanket public smoking ban recently approved in neighboring Lucas County, the proposed law could be more problematic because it's unclear just who would be effected, some said last night.

Under the proposal, smoking would be banned in all public places, including bars and restaurants, with two exceptions: smoking would be permitted in restaurants with completely enclosed bar areas designated as a smoking room and would be permitted in bars that derive less than 35 percent of their annual gross income from the sale of food.

Mr. Rightmyer said it would be too expensive for him to enclose a bar area and install the ventilation systems required in the proposed law. Just how much of the Junction's income is derived from food sales varies from month to month especially when college students are in town, he said.

Earlene Kilpatrick said it is unfortunate the proposed ordinance did not take into account the fact that in a college town, many restaurants rely on the nightlife to make their living. She said the term “public places” is confusing as well because she does not believe people understand that other businesses such as bowling alleys and coin-operated laundries would be affected by the law.

Ms. Kilpatrick, manager of Main Street BG, an organization that represents downtown business owners, said the group is not taking a position on the issue.

Mr. Schuman said repeatedly that if the ban passes, he expects business owners to largely police themselves. He said research shows that restaurants are not adversely affected by smoking bans.

“People have lived here for a while, and if they have loyalty to a business, just because they cannot smoke, they're not going to stop going to that business,” he said.

A recent law school graduate, Mr. Schuman first pitched the smoking ban to city council in November but no council members volunteered to sponsor such legislation. Instead, several said they believed it was appropriate for city voters to decide the issue.

Mr. Schuman and other volunteers gathered more than 1,000 signatures which were submitted to the Wood County Board of Elections and verified in February.

In Lucas County, smoking will be banned inside all public places starting July 10 after the Toledo-Lucas County board of health approved the ban by a 7-1 vote last month. Local bar and restaurant owners plan to fight the regulation in court, saying it will put a number of establishments out of business.

The group, led by Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Eating and Drinking Saloon in West Toledo, complained that the regulation was put into place by an unelected board, not by a vote of the people. Health officials said because an estimated 74 percent of Lucas County residents do not smoke, the majority must support the smoking ban.

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