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Published: 6/3/2007

Complaints pile up since Ohio's smoking-ban enforcement began

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nick Fall has complied with Ohio s smoking ban by posting related signs and removing the ashtrays at his New Airport Lounge, but he won t police customers who light up.

The neighborhood-bar owner doesn t plan to start prohibiting smoking until the fines associated with the ban start kicking in, a decision that has kept his tobacco-using clientele happy for the last month and has even attracted some new customers.

Nonsmokers outnumber smokers in Ohio, but not many nonsmokers come to his Holland bar, Mr. Fall said. No food other than snacks is served at the New Airport Lounge, and there are other options for nonsmokers, he said.

I don t like country music, so I don t go to a country bar, Mr. Fall reasoned last week. If you don t like smoking, don t go to a smoking bar.

A month after Ohio started to enforce the smoking ban at most public buildings, much to the long-awaited delight of nonsmokers, health officials have received more than 225 complaints about smoking at about 150 locations in Lucas County.

This week, health officials will begin to send warning letters to violators. But it could take until fall for any fines to be imposed.

Like the New Airport Lounge, some holdouts have received multiple complaints, and bars and restaurants make up about 95 percent of reports, Toledo-Lucas County Health Department officials said last week.

Other businesses and the inspectors themselves, meanwhile, are working through early enforcement issues such as how far away smokers need to stay from a building s entrance so smoke doesn t drift inside, as well as the best time to investigate complaints. Businesses statewide will be investigated by local health departments and receive warnings for their first violations, followed by fines ranging from $100 to $2,500, depending on the number of incidents.

All fines could be doubled for flagrant violators, and there have been about 5,200 complaints received statewide so far, said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.

Fewer complaints are being received in more rural counties, such as Fulton, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Wood. Complaints for those areas range from nine in Fulton to 41 in Wood, officials said.

Some of the Wood County complaints proved to be frivolous, and some involved not having signs posted, said Brad Espen, director of environmental health for the county health department.

Ottawa County s 40 complaints involve 13 locations, said Nancy Osborn, county health commissioner. We ve had a couple of heavy hitters, she said.

Wendy Simpkins, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, said her group is not working to police the ban or seek out potential violators.

Since Ohio s smoking ban began being enforced, business is down about 20 percent at Martini & Nuzzi s bar in Maumee, where owner Cheryl Jiannuzzi now spends time sweeping up cigarette butts from the sidewalk, and customers such as Jeff Husnick of Toledo and Chris Havermale of Perrysburg fume.

A sign warns Martini & Nuzzi s customers that they can t take drinks outside while they smoke, and Mr. Husnick said he stays home more often so he can drink and puff at the same time.

I m 31 years old, he said. I should be able to light up if I want to.

Toledo-Lucas County health inspectors have been investigating complaints and will begin issuing the first warning letters this week, said Karim Baroudi, supervisor for inspectors.

We re finding a mixed bag out there, he said. Some of them are violations, and some of them are dismissed.

Some businesses already have appealed complaints, and for those that continue protesting at every available step, fines will not start appearing until fall, officials said. Complaints probably will lessen in about six months, said Alan Ruffell, the department s director of environmental health.

Surprisingly, the department s Mr. Baroudi said, more complaints are coming in from smaller areas such as Whitehouse and Curtice than anticipated. Mad Anthony s Tavern Inc. in Waterville and the Barnacle in Curtice are among establishments with multiple complaints, as is Delaney s Lounge in Toledo and other city bars.

Several private clubs throughout the county are racking up multiple complaints too. The Fraternal Order of Eagles in Maumee, one of the repeat offenders, is waiting for a final decision on whether smoking will be allowed in private clubs, said an officer who declined to be identified.

Bars, restaurants, and clubs are not the only potential repeat violators. There have been numerous complaints, for example, about smoking violations at DaimlerChrysler AG s Toledo Jeep Assembly complex and Dales Corp. in Toledo.

Another surprise for health department officials? Reports of smoking violations at places such as Sylvan Elementary School in Sylvania, Stautzenberger College in Toledo, the Toledo Area Humane Society in Maumee, and Darlington Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Toledo.

Complaints about the quartet involved infiltration of smoke from outside, a common issue. Officials at all four workplaces said they have addressed problems about smoking far enough away from outdoor entrances, and Stautzenberger College is working on a plan to keep its new campus smoke free, said Brian Niedzwiecki, vice president of operations.

The Toledo Area Humane Society established an area about 55 feet from the building, where employees and volunteers can light up, reasoning that is ample space to prevent smoke from coming inside, said Natasha Bailey, director of operations.

Nursing homes, where smoking is permitted inside under certain conditions, have a dilemma. Darlington employees smoke more than 30 feet away from the building, but the smoking area that residents use is closer, said Robin Bates, business office manager.

It s not like it s trailing through the building, she said of the smoke. There s only so much you can do to keep that out.

Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney s Lounge, said smoking-ban opponents are working on a counterproposal that they hope to get on the November ballot. I think we ve got a real good chance of overturning it, he said.

Mr. Fall, the Holland bar owner with six employees, said he fears that the smoking ban will hurt the Toledo area economy, a common complaint among businesses.

It s not just me that I m concerned about, he said. I m worried about my bartenders too.

Said Maumee bar owner Ms. Jiannuzzi: Go pick on restaurants that have children in there.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:jmckinnon@theblade.comor 419-724-6087.



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