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Published: Thursday, 8/12/2004

Wauseon smoking ban goes back on ballot

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Wauseon group supporting a smoking ban in restaurants, but not bars, has enough signatures to put its initiative back on the ballot - for the last time, it says.

"We're just going to leave it to the voters," said Carl Lewis, secretary of a group of 12 to 15 promoters of the initiative, which is not as restrictive as the one that failed by 12 votes last November. "We've all said that if this doesn't pass, we aren't going to go after it again."

To Mr. Lewis, the biggest obstacle for his Tobacco Free Fulton County Coalition appears to be the outcry from Toledo City Council's ban on smoking in almost all public places.

He fears statements about loss of business at Toledo bars, restaurants, and bowling alleys might leave some Wauseon voters sympathetic to business owners who oppose the ban.

"I think the one thing that's hurting us is the situation in Toledo," he said.

One of the group's most vocal opponents, Evelyn Stickley, who led a grass-roots campaign against last year's initiative, agreed, citing the continued disagreement over Toledo's ban.

Toledo voters on Nov. 2 will consider modifying the city's smoking ban to allow smoking in bars and small restaurants and allow larger smoking areas in other restaurants.

Owners of such businesses organized an initiative petition to place the issue on the ballot.

The Wauseon initiative is to be filed tomorrow with the Fulton County Board of Elections, said Wauseon City Council Clerk Meg Murphy.

Tomorrow is 10 days after the initiative petition was submitted to Wauseon by the Tobacco Free Fulton County Coalition. Such a waiting period is required by state law.

As a courtesy to the board of elections, which expects much paperwork before the Aug. 19 deadline for the Nov. 2 ballot, Ms. Murphy photocopied the petition's signatures Friday for elections officials.

Elections Director Gloria Marlatt said she counted 244 valid signatures; 203 are needed, which is 10 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the governor's race in November, 2002.

Mr. Lewis said his group plans to erect 1,000 campaign signs that it used last fall and has proposed debating Mrs. Stickley and her husband, Harold.

The Stickleys, who say business owners should be able to decide whether to allow smoking in their establishments, are not interested in a matchup.

"They're not worth debating," said Mrs. Stickley, who owns a business where she allows smoking and other property where she does not. "They will never, ever back down from their belief. I won't back down from mine either."

She picked up a copy of the initiative yesterday and despite the changes from last year's proposal, she pronounced it essentially the same.

"It still all boils down to the same thing: It's control and regulation," she said. "Why in heaven's name do you want to stop something that's totally legal?"

Wauseon's smoking ban initiative would prohibit smoking in all enclosed areas except private homes and vehicles, bars, hotel and motel rooms, retail tobacco stores, private clubs hosting events that are not open to the general public, and any area where private social functions are being held and the seating arrangements are under the control of the sponsor and the event is not open to the general public.

Several of those areas where smoking would still be allowed, including bars, would have fallen under the ban in last fall's initiative

It failed with 1,060 people, or 50.3 percent, voting against the ban and 1,048, or 49.7 percent, for the ban.

Individuals who smoke in a restricted area would be guilty of a minor misdemeanor, and owners and managers of businesses would be guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor if they allow smoking.

The purpose of the ordinance, according to the initiative petition, is to protect public health by guaranteeing that no one should have to breathe second-hand smoke to work and that the need for some individuals to breathe smoke-free air should have priority over other individuals' desire to smoke.

Sandee Wagner, a waitress at White Lattice Cafe on Wauseon's Shoop Avenue, is all for that.

After smoking for 20 years, she quit five years ago when she developed lung problems.

But at the White Lattice, where the smoking and nonsmoking sections are in the same room, Ms. Wagner said she is required to wait on tables in both areas.

"Which kind of makes me wonder where my rights are," she said, adding that her manager is a smoker.

But at Doc Holliday's, a restaurant and bar on Fulton Street in downtown Wauseon, manager Pat Whitmire said many customers are smokers and the restaurant opposes the ban.

"We would definitely lose business from this and there is no way we could close off that downstairs bar," she said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6102.


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