Updated Fri, May 25, 2012 11:48 am
Local bars and restaurants are pledging to practice stricter enforcement of a statewide smoking ban, just days after the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the Ohio Smoke Free Workplace Act.
The court rejected claims from the owner of Zeno’s Victorian Village that smokers themselves should be fined rather than the owners of the establishments where the smoking occurs.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the act, which was approved by Ohio voters in 2006, impacts 280,000 public places and places of employment. It requires those places to remove ashtrays and post non-smoking signs at their establishment.
The Perry County Department of Health says they issued 21 warnings when enforcement began in 2007 and fined three businesses for the first time. The department issued only one warning in 2011 and says there have been no warning or fines issued to county establishments to this date in 2012.
Perry County Health Commissioner Angela DeRolph attributes this decline in warnings and fines to an increase in media coverage about the ban.
“I think a lot of people are still learning about the ban,” DeRolph said. “This law was voter approved, so it’s very important that we protect our citizens from second-hand smoke.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, 73 percent of Ohioans support the law, while 11 percent disapprove.
Seven bars in Athens said that because of this act, their businesses have grown and many people don’t seem to question the idea that they need to step outside to smoke.
Jeremy Strickland, who has been a bartender at Courtside Pizza & Sports Bar for 10 years, said the ban seems to have encouraged a number of smokers to quit or smoke less frequently, including him.
“The customer has a choice [whether or not to smoke], but as an employee, if it’s a smoking establishment, you’re stuck breathing that in all night,” Strickland said.
Like many other bars in Athens, Courtside designated an outdoor seating area for smokers. Local owners and employees say they think that the presence of these designated areas could be the reason for the low number of smoking violations.
“I’m a smoker, but I enjoy a smoke-free environment, as it’s more of a family atmosphere,” said Joe Kunkel, a manager at Jackie O’s Brewery. “I think the [smokers’ area] provides an outlet to not have it on their minds. You’re not totally suffocating the smoker’s coexistence between the smokers and non-smokers.”
Ohio is the 12th state to ban smoking in workplaces and public places and is the first Midwestern state to enact the ban.
The American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation reports that 39 states and the District of Columbia had local laws in April 2012 that required 100 percent smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and bars.
Todd Dunbebin, a bartender at Tony’s Tavern in Athens, said he doesn't agree with the ban, but recognizes that a law is a law.
“I don’t like the fact that the government is telling Tony that he doesn’t have the right to smoke,” Dunbebin said. “It’s his property.”
Despite mixed reaction to the ban, a spokesperson at Ohio Attorney’s General Office said that the court's Wednesday ruling made clear that the law is constitutional.
“This is good news for the democratic process,” Dan Tierney said. “The job of the attorney general is to defend our client [the Department of Health]. We assist them in collecting the unpaid fines and will continue to do so."