The impact of Ohio’s new smoking ban remains to be seen

Sean Ammerman

No one is sure how Ohio will react after becoming the first Midwestern state and 15th in the nation to implement a smoking ban.

Local health departments will have to face the wrath of complaints from non smokers and smokers, who are forbidden to smoke in all “public places” and “places of employment.”

The exact extent of these limitations could be determined in lawsuits.

Jodi Kopke of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Colorado’s transition to a smoke free state was a smooth one.

“With a smoke free law, the more you educate and inform, the more people comply,” she said. “For a state with four million people, to only have a handful of lawsuits, that’s pretty successful.”

When Colorado passed a its smoking ban six months ago, Kopke worked with the Tobacco Control Program in her state to help educate citizens on the law. However, there have been a few glitches.

A Denver theater group filed a lawsuit challenging the First Amendment validity of the ban before their performance of a play where a character was to smoke on stage.

“I don’t think the lawmakers ever thought of that,” Kopke said.

The challenge was upheld in October by a Denver district judge, but three weeks later the Colorado district attorney dropped a smoking violation case against a bar that claimed at least 5 percent of its revenues came from tobacco sales.

In Massachusetts, where smoking has been banned for two years, Donna Rheaume of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said the ban is no longer a hot issue.

“It’s really become part of the fabric of life here,” Rheaume said. “We think that it has been really successful. I think people, non-smokers and even some smokers, thought it was a good idea.”

The fear of failing business for bars and restaurants from a reflux of smokers has proved to be a myth in her state, she said.

A Harvard study found that sales and employment in Massachusetts bars and restaurants grew in the first six months of the ban. The study also said dangerous cancer-causing toxins fell by 93 percent in 27 tested bars and restaurants after the ban was put in place.

Rheaume said there is a 98 percent compliance rate in Massachusetts and Kopke claims a similar rate for Colorado.

California passed the first statewide smoking ban in the United States eight years ago. In November, Arizona and Nevada passed bans along with Ohio to put the number of states with smoking bans at 17.

The trend is also popular in other parts of the world. Several countries in the European Union, including France and England, have taken the step to nation-wide smoking bans.

“The United States is a little behind the times, I hope,” said Peggy Kearsy from the SmokeFreeOhio campaign.

If Kearsy is right, Ohio will create a domino effect of smoking bans across the heartland of the United States.

“All of the other states have been in the west or the east,” she said. “That will help the case for all the other Midwestern states to pass their legislation.”

While the opportunity to roll back the ban in a future election is a possibility, Shelly Kisser of SmokeFreeOhio said it isn’t likely that the tobacco industry or a grassroots group will fund another challenge.

“It’s not a good financial decision to put millions of dollars into another try,” Kisser said. “But one thing that we’ve come to find out about the tobacco industry is that you never know what they’re going to do.”

The tobacco industry did not attempt to challenge any of the other statewide bans after they passed, she said.

A representative for the SmokeLessOhio campaign – the rejected issue on the Ohio ballot that would have OK’d smoking in bars and restaurants – was not available for comment. A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco manufacturer that invested $5 million into SmokeLessOhio, refused to comment.

Contact public affairs reporter Sean Ammerman at [email protected].