SmokeFreeOhio decision was premature

If you had walked into Water Street Tavern last November, the first thing you would have noticed was the massive attack of smoke clouds from cigarettes.

Not anymore. Ohio’s smoking ban, SmokeFreeOhio, was supposed to prohibit smoking in public places, including places of employment. That means the days of going to a bar and coming out needing four showers to finally get the smoky smell out of your hair should be over.

Forty-seven days after it was supposed to go into effect, however, Water Street Tavern is the only bar in Kent that prohibits lighting up inside.

The debate about whether this law is fair should no longer be the issue. SmokeFreeOhio has been passed and discussion about the need for the law should end. We all just need to come to terms with this reality. Now is no longer the time or the place to debate its validity and whether the government should regulate our health. The smoking ban raises other important issues.

One of those issues is timing. The law went into effect prematurely. It’s never a good idea to make something illegal without deciding the specifics, and that’s what has happened.

The first deadline for SmokeFree Ohio was Dec. 7, 2006. The Daily Kent Stater reported Friday that lawmakers have until June 7 to pass legislation to enforce the ban. Kent Health Commissioner John Ferlito said the Ohio Department of Health has already posted a draft of the rules and regulations that enforce the smoking ban on its Web site, and lawmakers hope to have the regulations adopted in February.

The bars that don’t currently enforce the no-smoking rule receive a warning letter, which amounts to a slap on the wrist.

With the deadlines changing constantly, this has sent a clear message that no one has a clue as to what’s going on. So technically nobody has to enforce the new regulation – it’s a good thing too because nobody currently knows how to do so. This has left a whole gray area as far as what bars should do to deal with the situation.

It should not be up to the bars to decide whether they want to allow smoking after the ban has been passed. But, right now, they are making decisions on an individual basis. In Kent, Water Street Tavern is the only bar to fully accept the ban, and maybe others will follow.

For the time being, the decision to allow smoking has become a business issue. Following good financial logic, including that of the bars in downtown Kent, a business wants to do what’s best for business. And because the majority of bar owners believe that people won’t go out anymore after the ban takes effect, they are going to continue to let people smoke.

If the state was not ready to regulate the law, then the issue shouldn’t have even been on the ballot. What damage would have been done if it would have been saved for the spring election? Everything could have been figured out, and it would have made this so much simpler.

The above editorial is the general consensus of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.