Ohio’s statewide smoking ban, passed in the November 2006 elections, will officially go into effect May 3, and the Ohio Department of Health has outlined fines and regulations for businesses to use. These fines and regulations will give much needed clarity to enforcement of the new ban.
Jay Carey, director of public affairs with the Ohio Department of Health, said the initial passing of the ban gave the Ohio Department of Health six months, until June 7, to finalize rules and regulations, and the department has completed the rules within five months.
“Part of why it took five months was to get public input,” Carey said.
This public input included obtaining opinions on the ban from bar and restaurant owners, a group that is generally not in favor of the ban, Carey said.
Carey pointed out that, despite this opposition, the department of health is simply abiding by what the voters asked.
“We are trying to enforce the law that the voters gave us,” Carey said. “We’re doing what the voters asked us to do.”
Among the new rules to be enacted May 3 are three requirements businesses must meet in regards to the ban.
According to Carey, businesses – including restaurants, bars and manufacturing plants – must prohibit smoking, remove all ashtrays and make sure “No Smoking” signs, including a telephone number patrons can call to report complaints, are posted within the facility.
Carey said that if even one of these three requirements is not completed, enforcement mechanisms, from local health departments around the state, could then be put in place.
Fines for violations begin with a warning letter for a business. The fine then jumps to $100 for a second violation, $500 for a third violation and $1,000 for a fourth. Carey said that a fifth violation would result in a $2,500 fine.
But in order to properly fine a business for violating the no smoking ban, Carey said an investigation conducted by the local health department – for Oxford, the Butler County Health Department – would have to prove that the violation actually occurred.
Carey calls the new system of determining a violation a complaint-driven system.
“If someone calls in a complaint, the local health department will do an investigation to determine if there has been a violation,” Carey said.
Carey said that it took time to find a medium for each and every rule and obtain all feedback on the ban.
“For the most part, the bar owners are not very happy about (the ban),” Carey said.
Yet Steve Elliott, Miami University associate professor of economics, said that in regards to concern from bar owners over economic impacts, he believes that there may be some short-run suffering from businesses as people who smoke do not come out anymore, but this will not compare to the long-run impact.
Elliot believes that in the long-run businesses can actual get better as a result of a smoking ban.
“I have never heard of a business having a long-run adverse effect because of a ban,” Elliott said.
He said that of the effects he is aware of in places like New York and California where smoking bans are already in place, businesses have actually improved as a result.
“It actually pushes businesses up as nonsmokers come out again,” Elliott said.
Elliott said that while cities like Cincinnati could see an effect because of a smoking ban, he believes there will be little to no effect in Oxford.
Despite some criticism of the law from bars, Brian Hoelzer, owner of High Street Grill and Balcony Bar, said that enforcement of the ban would not have an affect on business. He said that in fact, sales have been better since the ban passed.
Hoelzer said that High Street Grill put a ban on indoor smoking as of Dec. 1, 2006, shortly after the ban passed in elections.
Balcony, however, has remained open to customers being allowed to smoke inside of the bar. He said that until the ban officially goes into effect, customers would be allowed to smoke in Balcony.
He also emphasized that when the ban does officially go into effect, he will follow it.
“Whenever the ban goes into effect, Balcony will abide by it,” Hoelzer said.
John Anderson, manager of The Smokin’ Ox, echoed Hoelzer’s thoughts on the ban and said the bar began enforcing the ban as soon as it passed in November and that it has actually been good for business.
He said that while the bar lost some regular customers as a result of the ban, it did bring in more families and female business.
Anderson said that while the management of Smokin’ Ox initially thought the ban would hurt business, he does not think its enforcement will change anything from how business runs now.
For businesses worried about a shift in customers as a result of the ban, Hoelzer said that once the ban goes into effect for everyone, it will not make a huge change in anyone’s overall business.
“Once we’re on a level playing field, it won’t make a difference,” Hoelzer said.
Carey said that despite the opposition from some bar owners, he has still seen widespread compliance and believes it will be at almost 100 percent, based on the fines and violations businesses can receive, once the ban goes into effect.
Carey pointed out that the ban will go to great lengths in protecting those who don’t smoke from secondhand smoke and believes that Ohioans will quickly accept the ban.
“(The ban) will become an accepted way of life,” Carey said.