Statewide smoking ban begins next week

“No Smoking” signs have been popping up all over Kent recently, in anticipation of the statewide smoking ban that begins next week.

When SmokeFreeOhio goes into effect on Dec. 7, public places and places of employment must be smoke free and post “No Smoking” signs for customers.

A first infraction will result in a written warning for the business, while a second offense will be punishable by a fine of $100-$2,500. The exact amount is one of the matters up for review in Columbus, said Jay Carey, the director of public affairs for the Ohio Department of Health.

Kent Health Commissioner John Ferlito has been meeting with the Kent Licensed Beverage Association to talk about putting up “No Smoking” signs and removing ashtrays in bars and restaurants.

If a business does not have a “No Smoking” sign or still has ashtrays sitting out, Ferlito said the department will give a written warning and then take legal action.

The Ohio Department of Health and the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review has until June 7 to set the specifics of the SmokeFreeOhio law in stone.

But that doesn’t mean bars and restaurants have an extra six months to remain havens for smokers.

Local health departments will be using regular health inspections to check for the basics of the law (such as displaying signs and removing ashtrays).

The Portage County Health Department will probably be responsible for enforcing the smoking ban outside of the Ravenna and Kent city limits, but Health Commissioner DeWayne Porter said he is not sure if his department has the staff or finances to do so.

“We don’t know what is going to come down to the local health departments,” Porter said. “If it requires a lot of manpower, we don’t have the staff to do it. But we do support it.”

Nevertheless, he said the Portage County Health Department, which is a member of the Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition, feels the ban is a positive step forward for the state.

“This is a major public health issue, and we firmly believe in a smoke-free Ohio,” Porter said. “It’s just that our financial situation and our current manpower may not allow us to do these inspections and follow-ups.”

Ravenna Health Commissioner Lynette Blasiman said she will employ similar measures in the city of Ravenna.

“Effective Dec. 7, 2006, I will expect the sanitarian to be responsible for inspecting anybody who has a license from the Health Department and to document whether or not ashtrays have been removed and if there is a non-smoking sign posted,” Blasiman said.

A statewide hotline will be put in place Dec. 7 for citizens to make complaints on businesses that don’t comply.

The hotline number, 866-559-OHIO, must be displayed on the “No Smoking” signs.

Rule-making to be a “public process”

In addition to meeting with the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, which is made up of five state representatives and five state senators, Carey said the Ohio Health Department is working with an advisory committee of interested parties.

“We’re not required to meet with an advisory committee,” he said. “But in past experiences it worked really well. It’s a way of getting everyone at the table and making it a very public process.”

Carey said he expects the state to decide on all the regulations before the June deadline.

Until then, area health departments say they will enforce the basics of the law through regular health inspections, public noncompliance reports and expecting cooperation and self-regulation.

Alonca Hughes, assistant legal council at the Ohio Department of Health, said many of the rules will be based on the city ban in Columbus.

“Citywide, the ban went OK in Columbus,” Hughes said. “I’m not sure with statewide. Since we’re dealing with small cities and townships, it’s hard to say.”

Hughes said local agencies will take care of the majority of the enforcement because the state health department won’t have the resources to enforce it.

The consensus among the three local health departments is that the ban will be self regulatory.

“It will be more voluntary than anything else,” Ferlito said. “Historically, places that have had a smoking ban, like New York and in Columbus, haven’t had to do much. It kind of took care of itself.”

Peggy Kearsey, a spokeswoman for SmokeFreeOhio, said other states with smoking bans have been successful in self-regulation.

“These laws are 98 percent self-regulation,” Kearsey said. “Businesses police themselves. They don’t want the health department to fine them and then give them a bad reputation.”

She said citizens will demand that the law be enforced.

Contact public affairs reporters Sean Ammerman at [email protected] and John Oberlin at [email protected].