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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Smoke ban at private clubs upheld


COLUMBUS - State health officials erred when they tried to exempt veterans halls and other private clubs from Ohio's smoking ban, an appeals court ruled.

The law, which took effect last year following a statewide vote, prohibits smoking in most public places, including restaurants, bars, and offices.

The Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals on Monday upheld an earlier court ruling that said the state Health Department didn't have authority to write rules exempting private clubs. Such a change would need to be adopted by the state Legislature, the ruling said.

The decision was another victory for the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group representing Ohio's bar owners. The group filed a lawsuit last summer, saying the exemption for private clubs was unfair.

State attorneys were reviewing the latest court opinion and had not decided whether to file an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, said Keith Dailey, a spokesman for Gov. Ted Strickland.

Health Department officials have said they were trying to resolve contradictory language in the SmokeFree Act, which both allowed smoking in private clubs and restricted smoking in most workplaces.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of Ohio is disappointed with Monday's ruling, said William Seagraves, a former state commander of the group who now heads the organization's charity arm. "It's not going to stop," Mr. Seagraves said. "We have clubs that are ready to go down. They can't make it."

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