Jillian Engel

The Ohio Department of Health has only received 32 complaints about patrons smoking in uptown businesses since the state enacted a smoking ban.

Amid the controversy over the smoking ban on Miami University’s campus, Oxford businesses remain violation-free of the public business and workplace smoking ban set into motion May 3, 2007.

Since state legislators passed the smoke-free law stating Ohio businesses and workplaces are prohibited to allow smoking, Butler County Combined General Health District reported a total of 1,085 complaint-related phone calls regarding the ban.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, only 32 complaints have been called in for Oxford businesses, none of which have been further investigated.

“Those phone calls are only allegations,” Ohio Department of Health Spokesman Kristopher Weiss said. “(After a complaint has been called in), someone has to go investigate and some of those turn out not to be violations.”

Virtually anyone, an employee or a customer, may call in an alleged violation to a toll-free number to report a person smoking in a prohibited area or observes an ashtray present.

“The majority of businesses are complying with the smoking ban and are doing so voluntarily,” Weiss said.

However, according to an Ohio Department of Health survey of smoking ban complaints, American Legion bars have had 1,400 complaints and Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) bars have had nearly 2,000.

But Oxford businesses are not experiencing close to thousands of complaints because they are not filled with volumes of veterans for customers such as American Legions or VFWs.

“A lot of those places you see that affect (where violations are reported) are VFW halls and Moose Lodges,” said High Street Grill and Balcony Bar Owner Bryan Hoelzer. “It’s sort of different than the student crowd. You’re talking about people who’ve smoked for a long, long time.”

A complaint was called in on Bruno’s Pizza in August 2008, but the complaint did not adhere to the violation guidelines, according to the Ohio Department of Health survey.

Bruno’s Manager Pat Manning said she and her staff pay close attention to the rules.

“We’re really strict on the smoking laws and have not had any problems with it,” Manning said.

Manning said Bruno’s lost some of their regular customer base the first week the smoking ban was implemented, but business has since been back to normal.

Although many Oxford businesses, including restaurants and bars, have not experienced a major decrease in sales over the past 18 months, state legislators are working to bring their smoking clientele back.

Senator Robert Schuler (R-Cincinnati) is sponsoring Senate Bill 346, a bill that modifies state smoking ban exemptions for family-owned businesses, outdoor patios and private clubs.

The proposed bill was introduced in June 2008 and was assigned for the review to the Senate Health, Human Services and Aging Committee.

Weiss said the Ohio Department of Health is still reviewing the bill and has not taken a position on it yet.

Manning said she would be in favor of the bill if it passed.

“It should be up to the owners to decide if they want their building, bar or business to be filled with smoke,” Manning said.

Hoelzer said his business would remain smoke-free if the bill was passed.

“Sales are up without any smoking,” Hoelzer said. “It’s nice to not go home and smell like cigarettes all the time.”

Skipper’s Pub received two complaints in August 2007 regarding the smoking ban, but neither developed into violations. Owner Terry Amarantos said he’s happy the way business is going right now and hasn’t considered going back to a smoking restaurant since hearing news of the Senate bill.

“Once (the government) comes up with a law, not everybody’s going to be happy with it,” Amarantos said. “I’m a smoker and you know what, it feels wonderful going into a bar that’s not smoky.”