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Rule change would allow smoking at some clubs

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:50 PM

Proposed changes to Ohio's smoking ban might help private clubs whose business has suffered as a result.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has been working on the rules to enforce the smoking ban voters overwhelmingly approved in November, which went into effect Dec. 7. However, many institutions across the state have ignored the smoking ban because of unclear rules and the lack of penalties. That could all change in the near future.

On Wednesday, the department submitted its recommendations for rules and enforcement to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, said ODH spokesman Kristopher Weiss. If the committee approves the rules at its April 16 meeting, they could go into effect as soon as 40 days from March 31.

The rules lay out the penalties for a violation: A warning letter for a first violation; $100 for a second violation, $500 for a third, $1,000 for a fourth and $2,500 for every violation after that. If an institution is willing to consistently pay the $2,500 fine for each violation, there is no further action the state can take, Weiss said.

Weiss said a violation can be reported anonymously to the state's toll-free enforcement hotline (866) 559-6446. However, a complaint itself will not be enough to warrant a violation. Under the proposed rules, once a complaint is filed it will be forwarded to the local department of health, which will then launch an investigation.

The additional manpower needed for enforcement will come from fees. Under the proposed rules, 90 percent would go back to the local health departments with 10 percent going to the state to run the hotline.

So far, the hotline has received more than 15,000 reports of alleged violations and another 30,000 calls with questions about the smoking ban, Weiss said.

Another change to the rules would exempt private clubs, such as the Eagles Club or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, from the ban under the following conditions: only members all older than 18 are present and the location is in a freestanding building.

For example: Weiss said if a non-veteran, non-VFM member was hired to work at the location or the building was open to the public for an event such as a fish fry the smoking ban would be in effect. However, if all workers were VFM members and the club was open only to members at the time, the VFM would be exempt from the ban.

Mary Winans, the club manager for the VFW in Willard, 19 Woodland Ave., said the ban has hurt business at the canteen.

"If something doesn't happen, it will take a big toll on our business," she said. "We were hoping that something happens so we can have smoking in our club. Otherwise the business will just go down hill."

However Kristie Ewing, who works at Friendly Corners, 21 Mill St., said business has not changed, and the ban only affects about one in 15 customers.

"Since it started, just a few customers have left because of it. They're here for the company and the food ... We've been pretty fortunate, it's not that important to them."

Ewing added that even if the owners could chose between the ban and not having the ban "not smoking is better. Realistically, you can't make everyone happy."

A supervisor at the Shamrock Tavern, 14 N. Hester St., said the bar was still allowing smoking because of the confusion about the enforcement.

Once the rules and fines are approved the bar plans to enforce the smoking ban, which prohibits smoking, calls for the removal of ash trays and posting of signs with the toll free enforcement number.

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