Kent bars adjust, wait for smoking ban enforcement

Jackie Valley

Some adhere to ban, others keep smoking

For some bars in Kent, ashtrays still exist, but in others, they were swept away with the smoke following the passage of Issue 5 on the November ballot.

SmokeFree Ohio, which went into effect on Dec. 7, banned smoking in public places and places of employment, including bars and restaurants.

Kent Health Commissioner John Ferlito said lawmakers have until June 7 to pass legislation to enforce the ban.

According to Ferlito, the Ohio Department of Health has already posted a draft of the rules and regulations to enforce the smoking ban on its Web site, and lawmakers hope to have the regulations adopted in February.

Currently, Ferlito said warning letters will be sent to establishments not complying with the law if people complain to the Ohio Department of Health by calling (866) 559-6446.

Until then, local bars and restaurants face a decision: Follow the still largely powerless law or please smoking customers?

The decision was simple for the Water Street Tavern.

“We’re going by the law and enforcing it,” general manager Brett Sinning said. “The law passed and there could potentially be harsh penalties.”

So far, the reaction has been positive.

“People really haven’t been that mad about it, but I think the weather helps,” Sinning said. “Time will tell.”

To prepare for the cold weather, Zephyr Pub and Mugs Brew Pub & Sports Grill Restaurant added outdoor heaters.

Even so, the need to remain competitive in downtown Kent encouraged a few bars to allow smoking.

“Other bars in town are smoking, so we still are too,” said Dave Wies, a bartender at the Zephyr.

Mugs came to the same conclusion.

“We started off banning (smoking),” bartender Kristen Hann said. “Then once other bars started allowing it, the ban was ruining our business.

“We tried to enforce it, but it wasn’t really working.”

Ray’s Place, which banned smoking, decided to stick it out.

“There’s some hypothetical difficulties when businesses down the street are defying the law,” manager Tom Creech said. “We may be losing some customers.”

However, he said nonsmokers seem to appreciate the ban.

For smoker Fred Davidivatte Jr., a customer at the Zephyr, a bar’s smoking policy does not make a difference.

“I don’t care one way or another,” Davidivatte said. “I smoke less in ones where they’ve cut smoking out. It’s probably better for me anyway.”

Ferlito said businesses exempt from the smoking ban include tobacco stores and nursing homes. Smoking is also permitted in businesses where 80 percent of the sales are tobacco products.

Firefly, a hookah bar in downtown Kent, falls under the exemption because its main product is tobacco, employee Ryan Brown said.

Sinning, who is also an owner of Barcode, said the club removed its hookah bar because it did not account for the majority of its business.

Barcode is also remaining smoke free.

Contact general assignment reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].