Group vows challenge if smoking ban OK'd


A regulation banning smoking inside all public places in Lucas County almost certainly will be challenged in court if it's passed by the Toledo-Lucas County board of health, according to a spokesman for some local bars and restaurants.

“We'll do whatever has to be done. We just don't feel a nonelected body should be making rules that will put us out of business,” said Arnie Elzey, a member of the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association and president of the Northwest Ohio Licensed Beverage Association.

The restaurant association represents about 200 area restaurants, while the beverage association represents about 60 establishments that sell alcohol. Mr. Elzey made the comments about a legal challenge after the health board's meeting yesterday.

Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner, is pushing the 11-member appointed board to pass a regulation banning smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants.

The regulation would be the toughest in Ohio if passed.

Dr. Grossman said despite some delays in presenting his official proposal to the board, he's still committed to passing a ban. He said he hopes to offer a draft regulation at the board's Jan. 25 meeting. That would be considered the regulation's first reading.

It takes three readings before a regulation could be passed, meaning the soonest the board could vote on the regulation would be during its March meeting.

The board has said it will hold public hearings on the regulation before it votes, but those haven't been scheduled.

Mr. Elzey said he has been designated the spokesman on the smoking issue by the restaurant association and beverage association because of his experience fighting no-smoking regulations.

In the late 1980s, he fought efforts by the city of Toledo to pass a smoking ordinance that he considered unfair. The ordinance eventually passed but allows for no-smoking sections.

Mr. Elzey, who owns Arnie's Eating and Dining Saloon at 3322 West Central in Toledo, said he and many other bar and restaurant owners are convinced they'd lose business to surrounding counties if the regulation is passed.

Dr. Grossman has said many studies have been done showing no loss in revenue at bars and restaurants in cities or counties that have passed similar laws.

Mr. Elzey doubts the validity of those studies, and the groups he represents will look at the studies, as well as gather their own information. He said the restaurant and beverage associations would decide what to do after looking at Dr. Grossman's regulation and after looking at the studies.

However, he said unless there are major changes to the regulation, it will be challenged.

Dr. Grossman said the only change he's made to his proposal is that the revocation of food licenses would not be used as an enforcement tool.

Instead, he's proposing a series of gradually increasing fines. Amounts haven't been determined.

He said he expects the regulation to be challenged, which is one reason he has delayed presenting it. He said he wants to make sure the legal language in the regulation is “airtight,” so that it survives the challenges.