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Published: 1/6/2005

Wauseon takes belated look at smoking ban

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Wauseon City Council, which was stunned to learn Tuesday that a smoking ban it thought was only a proposal has legally been in effect for six weeks, is to decide this morning whether to quickly amend the ban.

If council wants to consider an amendment - and Mayor Jerry Dehnbostel predicted yesterday that it would make at least minor changes to the initiative that voters passed Nov. 2 - he said he would call a special meeting tomorrow for the vote.

"I think everyone is going to realize this is something we're really under the gun with," Mayor Dehnbostel said of decisions to be made at this morning's 7:30 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

He predicted council will amend the ban, at least to clarify how it would be enforced. But he said he would recommend any such amendments be effective in 30 days, instead of putting them in effect immediately, to allow time for city officials to notify businesses of the law.

"It's basically something we can't enforce until everyone is notified as to what the responsibilities are," the mayor said.

It was unclear yesterday what that would mean for restaurants and other businesses during that 30-day period. Mayor Dehnbostel said he did not know what the law would be in such a case and law director Jeffrey Robinson declined to comment.

Wauseon Police Chief Keith Torbet said police will investigate complaints of smoking and refer any that appear to violate the law to Mr. Robinson. He said no complaints had been filed early yesterday and he did not plan to send officers out to check for compliance.

"We have other things to worry about than whether someone is smoking in a restaurant," he said.

Sharon Morr, who was a leader in the effort to pass the smoking ban initiative at the polls Nov. 2, said the ban should be enforced immediately.

"I would hope the city will move on this right away - since they're almost two months late to begin with - even if they have to make phone calls," she said of notifying businesses. "It's not difficult to take your ash trays out and put up a sign that says 'No smoking.' You can make a sign on a piece of cardboard."

Mrs. Morr, who is director of corporate and community health promotion at Fulton County Health Center, said she hoped council would not make major changes in the initiative that voters passed by 79 votes, a 51 percent majority.

Council has a sample ordinance that would exempt eateries with fewer than 45 seats from a ban and would allow smoking in separate rooms and in bars of restaurants. Such a law would appear to allow all of the city's restaurants that allow smoking now to maintain smoking areas - the opposite of the initiative voters approved.

Mrs. Morr called that atrocious.

The initiative voters passed bans smoking in all public eateries, even if they have separately ventilated smoking rooms, making it stricter for restaurants than Toledo's smoking ban. Smoking is also banned in most other workplaces, including business vehicles.

Wauseon's ban, however, allows smoking in bars - the city has two - and in its three private clubs: Wauseon Elks 1734, American Legion Post 0265, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7424.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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