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Published: Friday, 8/22/2003

City is ready to enforce new smoking ordinance

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo will enforce its ban on smoking in most public places when it goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, but the early emphasis will be on educating those affected, city officials say.

“We want to work with the businesses to make sure they know the regulations and know the procedures and the penalties,” Mary Chris Skeldon, Mayor Jack Ford's public information officer, said. “We'd like to start off in an educational and cooperative mode.

“But we'll be taking complaints and following up,” she said.

Ohio's most far-reaching anti-smoking law becomes official following the failure this week of a referendum petition drive by bar and restaurant owners opposed to the ban.

The anti-smoking ordinance was passed by Toledo City Council on July 8, largely as a workplace safety measure to protect employees at bars and restaurants from inhaling the smoke from patrons' cigarettes.

Some bar owners claim the law infringes on their rights and those of their customers. They claim the measure will put some of them out of business as smokers drive to nearby suburbs or stay home.

A petition drive aimed at repealing the ordinance fell 890 signatures short of the 9,480 needed to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot, according to a letter yesterday from Lucas County Elections Director Joe Kidd to Michael Beazley, city council clerk.

Mr. Beazley had said the law would not go into effect until Monday, but city Chief Counsel John Madigan yesterday said it goes into effect Sunday.

Officials representing the city's Division of Environmental Services, city police, and the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department yesterday outlined for the media how the law will work and how it will be enforced.

Five similar meetings already have been held for bar and restaurant businesses, they said.

Mr. Madigan said there will be “an army” empowered to issue citations. He said that army includes more than 700 police officers, 500 firefighters, and inspectors in the divisions of environmental services, nuisance abatement, building inspection, and the health department.

The health department will have three inspectors working on Sunday doing normal restaurant and other inspections, but they will make efforts to discuss the smoking ban with managers and owners, said Larry Vasko, deputy health commissioner.

“Throughout the day, we will have inspectors in the field spot-checking for compliance, [including] posting of signs and [removal of] ashtrays,” Mr. Vasko said.

“We envision a lot of compliance from the bars and restaurants,” he said. “We've heard nobody say they're going to flout the regulation and not comply with it.”

Violation of the law is a minor misdemeanor. A smoker caught illegally lighting up is subject to a $100 fine.

The penalties for owners of establishments that don't enforce the smoking ban are more complicated.

A complaint - even an anonymous one - will generate a warning letter to the owner of the establishment where the alleged smoking took place, said Eric Zgodzinski, a supervisor in the health department. A second complaint will prompt a visit to the establishment by an inspector.

However, a complaint will have to be in the form of a sworn affidavit to be treated as “verified” under the law. A second verified complaint will be treated as the first “verified violation.”

The penalties begin with mandatory workplace education for the shift supervisor and the table server for the first verified violation and progress to mandatory education for the entire roster of employees after a third violation. A fourth violation results in a minor misdemeanor for the establishment and referral to the Ohio Department of Liquor Control.

Persons wishing to report illegal smoking may call the city's smoking hotline, at 419-936-STOP (7867), at any time. Calls made after normal weekday business hours can be left on a message machine for action the following business day.

Bars and restaurants which elect to install a smoking lounge can be temporarily exempted from the law if they file for a building permit with the city building inspector's office by Sept. 23. All such exemptions would expire 120 days after the law goes into effect, or by Dec. 22, Mr. Vasko said.

He said any bar or restaurant owner today or in the future can install a smoking lounge, but the exemption from the smoking law would not be available after that.

Yesterday, Ken Pompora, owner of Jed's Barbeque & Brew restaurant chain, said he was filing plans immediately for a smoking lounge at his restaurant at Reynolds Road and Heatherdowns Boulevard. He said a similar plan for another restaurant he has under construction at Alexis and Telegraph roads is adding $75,000 to the cost there.

Mr. Pompora, who served on the task force that drafted the law, said, “we're finding that the expense of a smoking lounge is far exceeding anybody's expectations.”

The smoking lounge can constitute no more than 30 percent of the serving area of an establishment and must have four walls and separate ventilation. It cannot be the only entrance or exit for a building, or the only access to restrooms.

The enactment of the law comes nearly one year after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Aug. 28, 2002, against a countywide smoking ban regulation approved by the Toledo-Lucas County Board of Health. Mr. Vasko said the department intends to encourage the county's suburban cities to embrace the same ordinance.

View the smoking law on the city of Toledo's Web site: http://www.ci.toledo.oh.us/images/071503cleanairord.pdf.



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