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With both sides claiming to be the little guy in a David vs. Goliath showdown, a group of Toledo bar owners yesterday filed petitions aimed at forcing a referendum on Toledo's new anti-smoking law.
The group handed over to Toledo City Council petition books that contained 16,097 signatures.
If at least 9,479 are certified as valid Toledo registered voters, the question of whether to retain the smoking ban will be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
“If they throw out a third of them we still have enough,” said Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Eating and Drinking Saloon in Westgate and an officer of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association. “I think people are tired of government interference in small business.”
Mr. Elzey said the petition drive was a grass-roots effort that began in bars and bingo halls and branched out to church festivals. He claimed a third of the signatures are from nonsmokers.
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Michael Beazley, clerk of council, turned the petition books over to the Lucas County Board of Elections, which has 10 days to verify the signatures.
The petitions seek to repeal the clean indoor air ordinance passed unanimously by City Council on July 10 and signed by Mayor Jack Ford.
The ordinance bans smoking in restaurants and bars, except in enclosed, separately ventilated smoking lounges. Bars with a serving area smaller than 245 square feet are exempted.
Mayor Ford said yesterday that community organizations will work together to defeat the repeal effort.
“We will have an effort to persuade the voters to support the ban,” Mr. Ford said. “I expect Big Tobacco to wade in on this with some level of support.”
Local bar owners downplayed the role of the national tobacco lobby, saying no discussions have been held yet.
“I haven't talked to Big Tobacco since 1987,” Mr. Elzey said. “Everything we're doing is out of pocket.
“It's going to be David versus Goliath and we're David. Goliath is this huge, funded anti-smoking lobby,” Mr. Elzey said, referring to the Tobacco-Free Ohio coalition.
Mr. Elzey said if the referendum passes, the bar owners would support a ban on smoking in restaurants.
Stuart Kerr, a local coordinator of Tobacco-Free Ohio, said the group will continue to run television ads in support of the smoking ban and provide speakers to groups. He said that, historically, anti-smoking groups have been heavily outspent by the tobacco industry.
“As far as I'm concerned [the tobacco interests] are very much Goliath,” Mr. Kerr said. “We think we're on the correct side of the science and what the general public is in favor of.”
Mr. Kerr said the Toledo repeal effort will be closely watched in Ohio and beyond the state line.
“I can understand their interest because if this [is upheld], certainly other [cities] in the state will follow,” Mr. Kerr said. He said a ban on smoking in Ohio bars would cut into smoking rates, and, hence, tobacco industry profits.
The referendum is the work of Toledo bar owners who say their businesses will suffer as smokers stop coming or take their business to bars outside the city limits that allow smoking.
Toledo's ban is considered the most far-reaching smoking restriction in Ohio because it does not exempt stand-alone bars.