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Bowling Green council makes clarifications in smoking ban

BOWLING GREEN - With more debate than preceded the approval of a citizens' initiative to ban smoking in most public places here, city council last night agreed to clarify the new law.

In a 5-2 vote, council amended the ordinance to say that public places affected by the smoking ban would be “indoor” areas to which the public is invited. The initiative approved by voters simply said “all” public places, which some felt could mean outdoor areas.

Council also clarified a section of the law that requires employers to provide smoke-free workplaces for their employees. The ordinance now reads that bars and separate smoking areas in restaurants are workplaces where a smoke-free environment is not required.

Council members Stan Bortel and Patrick Ng voted against the amendments after council refused to adopt a longer list of changes they had proposed.

“This is a dramatic change to add `indoor,'” Mr. Bortel said, explaining that he felt the coalition that sponsored the initiative misled the public about what the law really said. He suggested council wait to see how the smoking ban played out in the community before making any changes.

“Let's let the smoke settle. Let's let the city prosecutor look at this,” Mr. Bortel said. “Then let's come back in the fall and talk about it.”

Council President B.J. Fischer conceded the smoking ban “was not the cleanest ordinance we have,” but said he supported the changes. “I think the changes we've proposed are reasonable and in line with what the voters thought they were getting.”

City voters approved the smoking ban Nov. 6 by a wide margin: 3,046 to 1,897. It took effect Nov. 25, five days after the Wood County board of elections certified the vote.

The initiative banned smoking in all public places with the exception of restaurants with enclosed smoking areas and in bars that derive less than 35 percent of their income from food sales.

Even before the election, some city residents were talking to city officials about amending the ordinance because they felt some of its wording needed to be clarified.

Andrew Schuman, who led a year-long campaign to get the measure on the ballot, said after council's vote that the amendments were not necessary. “It's not going to change anything,” he said. “It wouldn't be enforced any differently with or without those changes.”

The city attorney and prosecutor said they received hundreds of calls about the smoking ban the first week it went into effect, most of which were from businesses wondering whether and how the new ordinance applied to them. Many felt it was confusing and unclear.

Bowling Green's smoking ban was regarded as less restrictive - and therefore less controversial - than a blanket smoking ban imposed this summer in Lucas County by the Toledo-Lucas County board of health. That ban is being challenged in court.

The only member of the public who spoke at last night's council meeting about the issue said he and others who voted for the smoking ban assumed it would be enforced in local bowling alleys.

Tom Vanden Eynden said he was disappointed to read that city officials determined bowling alleys were exempt because they derived less than 35 percent of their income from the sale of food.

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