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Published: Tuesday, 8/10/2004

Amendment headed to voters for November 2 ballot

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An anti-smoking-ban group has collected enough signatures to put an amendment weakening the ban on the Nov. 2 ballot for Toledo voters, Lucas County's elections director ruled yesterday.

Council is expected to vote tonight on the amendment, allowing it to go on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Last week, 10 of the 12 council members said they would vote to put the measure on the ballot. The remaining two council members, Wilma Brown and Betty Shultz, said last night they also would vote to allow voters to decide the issue.

Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said staff members reviewed 14,878 signatures and by yesterday afternoon found 9,585 valid ones, which surpassed the 9,479 required under the city charter.

The amendment, if approved, would partially roll back the 2003 smoking ban.

It would permit smoking in bars that earn less than 35 percent of their gross revenue from food sales, restaurants with nine or fewer employees, bowling alleys, and bingo halls. It also would allow smoking lounges to occupy as much as 50 percent of the service area in an establishment. Current law allows smoking lounges to occupy up to 30 percent of an establishment.

Current Toledo law prohibits smoking in all eating and drinking establishments, bowling alleys, and bingo halls. Exempted are private clubs, private social functions, bars smaller than 245 square feet, and approved smoking lounges.

Stu Kerr, regional policy coordinator for Tobacco Free Ohio, said the original ordinance, which took effect Aug. 24, 2003, was intended to protect people who work in bars and restaurants from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

"The longer we go, the more dangerous secondhand smoke obviously is. Most people have learned that and they don't want to be around it," Mr. Kerr said. "We'll mount a campaign to get the issue across."

Bar owners complain that they have lost business since the start of the ban because their customers can easily drive to the suburbs to smoke in a bar or restaurant.

"Now we're looking forward to what city council is going to do and we'll proceed from there," said Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's Lounge on Alexis Road and treasurer of the anti-smoking-ban group, Citizens for Common Sense.

He said the group will advertise because he knows they need to reach voters other than those who patronize bars, bingo halls, and bowling alleys.

Councilman Frank Szollosi said he is confident voters will uphold the original ban and he is eager to participate in a campaign to defeat the initiative.

"I think the voters in Toledo are going to do the right thing and uphold the original law. With that confidence, I guess I would like the matter resolved earlier rather than later," Mr. Szollosi said.

Mr. Delaney contends that secondhand smoke is exaggerated as a health threat.

In any case, he said, adults should be allowed to make the choice.

He acknowledged children enter bowling alleys, and suggested bowling alleys set aside nonsmoking times for when children are present.

It was not clear how children would be protected in restaurants in which smoking would be allowed.

Mayor Jack Ford's spokesman, Megan Vahey, said yesterday that Mr. Ford had not been officially notified about the signatures and therefore would not comment.

The bar owners tried to get a repeal referendum on the ballot in 2003, but fell 972 signatures short.

Mr. Delaney said the signature drive was successful this time because the petition-gatherers were more careful than last year.

In all, there were 16,230 signatures turned in. Ms. Hicks-Hudson said about 20 people on her staff worked last week, Saturday, and part of yesterday to verify signatures.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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