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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Lucas County begins to double fines for smoking violations

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo-Lucas County health department is putting more heat on bar owners who officials believe intentionally are violating the state's smoking ban by trying to double their fines, starting with Platinum Showgirls LLC.

The Toledo strip club at 5801 Telegraph Rd. is facing a $5,000 fine - twice the normal amount for a fifth violation - as is allowed under state law, Alan Ruffell, the department's director of environmental health, said yesterday before an administrative hearing against Platinum Showgirls.

"Every time we go there, they're smoking," he said.

Platinum Showgirls, however, is not the first business statewide to encounter a doubled smoking-ban fine.

Other health departments have decided to levy doubled fines against businesses "blowing smoke in the face of the law," said Kristopher Weiss, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health. "They certainly have that discretion."

Delaney's Lounge, 309 West Alexis Rd., Toledo, is to be the next Lucas County business facing a doubled fine.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29 on a third-violation fine disputed by Delaney's that was doubled to $1,000.

Owner Bill Delaney, a longtime smoking ban opponent, said fine doubling may be allowed under law, but there are legislative efforts underway to exclude private clubs and family owned establishments such as his from the ban.

"They can do what they want, but my whole point is, the whole thing is going to be overturned anyway," Mr. Delaney said yesterday.

During the administrative hearing yes-terday to consider Platinum Showgirls' appeal of its fifth violation, attorney Jeffrey Zilba said the health department did not prove the establishment's management was allowing smoking and should be fined.

A Platinum Showgirls customer a health department inspector saw smoking a cigar had put everything away while inspectors waited for the manager, which indicates he was trying to hide it from management, Mr. Zilba said.

Evidence from another inspection during which two Platinum Showgirls entertainers were seen smoking and cigarette butts were found in trash cans should not be allowed because the business had not been notified it was part of the investigation, he said.

Leslie Kovacik, an attorney for the city of Toledo who volunteered to be an administrative hearing officer for smoking ban violations, said she should have her recommendation within weeks on Platinum Showgirls' appeal and others heard yesterday. The health department's board members use such recommendations to decide whether to uphold fines. Their determinations can be appealed to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Earlier this week, the Franklin County court upheld a $500 fine against Pour House Inc., 4301 Bennett Rd., Toledo, the first appeal from Lucas County that has been decided.

The Toledo-Lucas County health department has had 1,641 complaints about smoking ban violations. The department has issued 98 warning letters and 76 fines ranging from $100 to $2,500, depending on the number of violations, according to this week's state report.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.


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