About 30 people commented on Toledo's proposed ban on smoking in bars and restaurants last night - with most of them in support of the ban.
City council held the first of two planned hearings on the proposed ordinance. The next is Wednesday.
While tavern owners asked for an exemption in the law, most speakers urged council to get on with the vote and add Toledo to the growing list of cities and states that have stubbed out smoking.
“Why is it illegal to sell cigarettes to someone under 18, but it's legal to take them into a restaurant with smoke in the air?” asked Michelle Horn of Toledo, a waitress at Sidelines Sports Eatery and Pub in Lambertville.
She said she can feel her lungs constrict when her customers smoke. “I ache from being exposed to smoke all the time,” she said. To those who suggested she find a different job, she said, “I make the most money a 19-year-old can make without a degree.”
The ordinance toughens the city's 1987 Clean Indoor Air Ordinance that banned smoking in most retail, entertainment, and other public buildings, as well as requiring restaurants to have nonsmoking sections.
The new ordinance would allow bars and restaurants to have a smoking lounge of up to 30 percent of their floor space. The lounge would have to be fully enclosed and separately ventilated to the outside.
Exempted would be taverns smaller than 245 square feet, catering halls used by private groups, and private clubs unless they held events open to the public.
The penalty would be a minor misdemeanor for an individual caught smoking in a smoke-free area, with a potential penalty of up to $100. Mandatory workplace education would be required of servers, managers, and owners as a result of smoking complaints. The business would face a minor misdemeanor upon a fourth violation and the Ohio Department of Liquor Control would be notified.
The ordinance was crafted by a task force that was formed after Mayor Jack Ford announced his support for a smoking ban in his State of the City address in January.
Council President Louis Escobar said he is sure the ordinance has more than enough votes to pass.
A vote was originally planned for July 8, but Mr. Escobar said it could be moved back two weeks to accommodate council members on vacation.
Hardly a word was heard during the three-hour hearing objecting to the smoking ban in eating establishments. But critics said bars and bingo halls cater predominantly to smokers and entirely to adults, and should not have to stop their patrons from smoking.
Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Eating & Drinking Saloon in the Westgate area and a member of the task force, called the ordinance “a slap in the face.”
“Eighty to 90 percent of bar customers smoke. A lot of them only smoke when they drink,” Mr. Elzey said. He urged an exemption for bars, bowling alleys, and bingo halls, or at least a five-year phase-in. He said few if any bars in Toledo have fewer than 245 square feet of serving space.
Tim Horne, an attorney representing nonprofit agencies that operate bingo parlors, said they will lose business to bingo halls outside Toledo.
“The only way [some nonprofits] have to fund themselves is through these bingo games,” Mr. Horne said.
He said the price of erecting walls and ventilators for smoking lounges would be economically impossible.
He also predicted most of the Alcoholics Anonymous and similar addiction sessions will fold because so many of the members smoke. But Mr. Horne's prediction was challenged by speakers who noted that AA groups meet frequently at churches and do their smoking outside.
Tina Dyer, part-owner of Krieger's Pub in West Toledo, said smoking is a choice for her business and her customers. She sarcastically suggested the government act to protect the health of obese people by restricting them to ordering from the salad bar.
“This is America, land of the free. Let them post a sign. If they don't want to come in, that's their choice,” she said.
Supporters of the ban argued that the dire predictions of bars and restaurants losing business from smoking bans haven't come true in other cities. Besides, they said, the cost of smoking-related illnesses far outweighs the cost of installing smoking lounges.
Kathy Silvestri of Temperance said that as a sports fan she'd love to go to a sports bar, but can't stand the smoke.
“I would love to go out to an establishment like Arnie's. We would go and we would stay for hours, but we will not go while there is smoking going on,” Mrs. Silvestri said.