Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Council OKs smoking ban

Smoking in Toledo bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and bingo halls will soon go the way of the spittoon because of an ordinance approved last night by Toledo City Council.

The smoking ban, the toughest so far in Ohio, was approved 11-0. Councilman Karyn McConnell was absent.

It allows establishments to set aside up to 30 percent of their space for a smoking lounge, and it exempts hole-in-the-wall bars - those with less than 245-square-feet of serving space - and private clubs and catered private events.

The ordinance takes effect 45 days from when Mayor Jack Ford signs it. The mayor said he hopes to sign the measure today.

“There will be a temporary drop in some businesses,” Mr. Ford said, acknowledging the fears of Toledo bar owners. “I think over time people will enjoy going into a smoke-free environment. In time, we'll adjust, and we'll be a better city for it.”

Stuart Kerr, regional policy coordinator for Tobacco-Free Ohio, which supported the smoking ban, said the organization will work to pass smoking bans in other Ohio cities.

“Toledo is the first major city in Ohio, and that's very important,” Mr. Kerr said. “We intend to keep this going.”

He said anti-smoking bans are under development in Defiance and Wauseon, as well as in Cleveland and Dayton.

Supporters based the effort on the known unhealthy effects of second-hand smoke on restaurant and bar employees and nonsmoking patrons.

Bowling Green banned smoking in restaurants in 2001, but exempted bars. The Toledo-Lucas County Board of Health adopted a countywide ban that was to take effect in July, 2001. The ban was struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court as an overuse of the board's authority.

Mr. Ford re-ignited the smoking debate in his State of the City address in January. Council President Louis Escobar followed up by appointing a 13-person task force that studied other cities' and states' smoking laws and then produced Toledo's proposed ordinance.

Under the local law, bars and restaurants may allow smoking only in fully enclosed rooms no larger than 30 percent of their total serving space. The rooms must be separately ventilated and may not be the only access of nonsmokers to bathrooms and exits.

The law gives bars up to four months to construct their smoking lounges.

The ordinance will be enforced by the city's division of environmental services in response to complaints.

A person caught smoking illegally could be slapped with a $100 fine.

A bar or restaurant that permits illegal smoking would have to undergo anti-tobacco education after the first three violations, and would face a minor misdemeanor and a referral to the Ohio Department of Liquor Control after that.

A small group of bar owners who attended last night's council meeting left fuming, threatening to launch a referendum drive to repeal the law or replace it with another.

Bar owners said 80 to 90 percent of their patrons smoke, and will either take their business out of Toledo or stay home.

Tim Watson, an employee of Arnie's Eating & Drinking Saloon in the Westgate area, said the renovations that will be required to create the smoking lounge will be too costly and inconvenient for the smaller taverns. And he said the bars will now be forced to try to control the behavior of smokers standing outside.

“It's going to hit us hard,” Mr. Watson said.

Mr. Escobar said it was up to the three tavern representatives on the task force to influence the legislation. “This waiting until the nth hour when we were trying to get people to come forward earlier in the debate is bothersome,” he said.

Dr. Steve Roberts, a public health professor from the University of Toledo who served on the task force, also said he expected a stronger counteroffensive.

Members of council called on the mayor to monitor the impact of the law, such as through sales tax receipts. They also urged the mayor to call on neighboring cities to adopt similar anti-smoking ordinances.

In addition to the open task force meetings, council held two public hearings. Anti-smoking voices predominated at the first hearing, on June 25, and tavern owners came out in force on July 2. No restaurant owners publicly objected.

A last-minute effort to exempt bars with up to 100 or 125-person capacities fizzled yesterday after Mayor Ford threatened to veto any such amendment, and after The Blade editorialized yesterday in favor of passing the ordinance undiluted.

The law exempts bars with less than 245 square feet - the maximum space for a capacity of 35 persons. Bar owners said there are likely few if any establishments that small.

The law also exempts private clubs and catering halls, except when the public is invited. The ordinance requires private clubs to have a permanent list of members, regular elections, bylaws, and control of the premises by the membership.

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