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Published: Friday, 7/2/2004

Councilmen confident smoking ban will endure

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Supporters of Toledo's smoking ban say although they're unsure if bar owners will succeed in bringing their proposed watered-down measure to a public vote, they're certain enough Toledoans are behind them in their effort to keep the law as it is.

The Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, approved by City Council last July, bans smoking in bars, restaurants, and other public places except private clubs, bars smaller than 245 square feet, and approved smoking lounges.

"An overwhelming majority of Toledoans support the Clean Air Ordinance," Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said. "They recognize its benefits to the public health."

Opponents of the ban - a Political Action Committee called the Committee for Common Sense - want a weaker ordinance, claiming that area bars have lost significant business due to the ban as a result of patrons heading to the suburbs.

But Councilman Frank Szollosi said he talked with beer distributors and was convinced there was no obvious spike in distribution to the suburbs relative to the city.

"There are all kinds of subjective or purportedly objective ways to measure the economic impact," Mr. Szollosi said. "But the ban will pay dividends in the long run as far as productivity and lower health care costs."

The opponents began a signature drive yesterday to put an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot that would replace the smoking ban with a new ordinance that allows smoking in bowling alleys, bingo halls, restaurants with fewer than 10 employees, and bars that receive less than 35 percent of their gross revenue from food.

"The new proposed ordinance goes against the spirit and meaning of the law," said Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner. "It's meant to help the people working in bars. I've had so many bartenders and waitresses come up and say, 'Boy, this is wonderful,' but they're afraid to speak out."

Last year, the committee tried to place a referendum on the November ballot to modify the ban, but fell 972 signatures short of the required 9,479 valid signatures.

Council members declined to speculate on the new initiative's prospects. However, they said that even if it does, it would have a tough time getting passed.

"Look at what happened in Columbus and Ireland since we cast our votes. Clearly, the tide is in favor of people who are anti-tobacco," said Mr. Szollosi.

Some opponents of the initiative admitted it has a better chance of getting on the ballot this time. "I think now they will be a little more diligent as far as where they get signatures," Dr. Grossman said.

Sandy Isenberg, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, added: "This is going to be a very large turnout, very heavy voting. Anything can happen."

At least one Toledo councilman who is opposed to the initiative expressed the hope that it gets on the ballot. "From the very first minute the issue was discussed, the best way to decide the issue was with a public vote. Under our charter, that option wasn't available," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. "A public vote is the best way to validate the ordinance."

Mayor Jack Ford, who initiated and supported passage of the ban, said if the issue gets on the Nov. 2 ballot, he'll urge its defeat.

"Hopefully, this will settle the issue one way or the other," Councilman George Sarantou said.

For the initiative to get on the ballot, the petitions must be presented to the clerk of council by Aug. 2. The clerk then gives them to the Lucas County Board of Elections for certification. If there are enough valid signatures, the matter then goes to council, which either can enact the recommended changes, refuse to make the changes and put the matter to a public vote, or enter into some type of compromise by Aug. 19, according to council Clerk Mike Beazley.

"For all practical purposes, Aug. 2 is the deadline for the signatures," Mr. Beazley said.

On the ballot, voters would be asked whether they want to replace the existing Clean Air Ordinance with the new version proposed by the Political Action Committee.

Bernadette Noe, Lucas County Republican chairman, said the issue has the potential for much confusion. Some voters might perceive the initiative as a total repeal and vote it down; others might think a "yes" vote is a vote in support of a smoking ban.

"What makes me doubt its success at the polls would be the complexity of it," Ms. Noe said.

Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Eating & Drinking Saloon and leader of the petition drive, said 82 bars in Toledo have 200 petitions each, and this time they're organized. Bartenders will ask those who sign if they're registered Toledo voters, and have voter registration cards ready if they're not.

Some of the ordinance's staunchest supporters say while bar owners may have a point, it's partially their own fault.

"There probably is some shift in business; an element of a less-than-fair playing field," Dr. Grossman said. "They fought hard to get rid of a countywide ban, and if we had had that, then we wouldn't have this problem."

Mr. Sarantou said he has visited bars in both Toledo and the surrounding suburbs and has seen a dip in local business.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he was skeptical that the ban was solely responsible for local bar woes, but the public should decide.

"It's my sense that there are a lot of factors working here. If they believe it's due to the Clean Air Ordinance, all the more reason to get it onto the ballot," he said.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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