On Smoke-Free Ohio

Headlines; Cincinnati Enquirer; Monday, December 29, 2008: Smoking Ban Proving Difficult to Enforce


No crap Sherlock and move over Einstein! We have the next contestant seeking the Mr. Obvious crown.


Let’s set the stage.

  • In 2006 Ohio voters used an initiative to ban smoking in public places and places of employment. (Link)
  • Proposed in 2008, Senate Bill 346, an obvious response to that law, wanted to create exemptions for family-owned businesses, outdoor patios, and private clubs, but the bill died in committee.
  • Smoke Free Ohio is an influential lobbying group on both voters and legislatures. And then there’s me: a non-smoker and who probably voted for the law.
  • According to the Ohio Department of Health 60% of the complaints (between May 2007 and mid-December 2008) were investigated by county health departments and 40% going investigated 5% of the complaints resulted in citations and fines.

 In other words, Ohio voters mandated something that the state either can’t enforce, has no means of enforcement, or chooses not to enforce.


My First Batch of Questions

  • How many people would it take to investigate and enforce statewide smoking violations in restaurants, bowling alleys, bars, taverns, private clubs, and any other public place?
  • How much would enforcement cost the state’s financial coffers?
    Would fines and citations be able to finance enforcement?

A Situation and More Questions
A person walks into a bar, takes a seat and then fires up a smoke. Yep, bartenders and servers are the ones serving as the first line of enforcement.

  • How many customers have businesses have lost customers because of their enforcement?
  • How has the law effect sales numbers for businesses?

Before the voted ban, some restaurants had smoking and nonsmoking sections. Of course it was a longer wait for a nonsmoking table, but the seat “along the border” was questionable. Today, I regret my vote and wish for modification in the law.


1) The business owner has the right to make a buck. In that spirit, they must declare their business as smoke-free or smoking allowed. That’s one or the other; not sections for each. Therefore, the owner’s smoking decision (not the voters) impacts who walks through the doors as customers.

2) Customers have the right to chose whether to frequent the business or not. Since I don’t like the smoke, I won’t go in. But I refuse to take the angle that because I’m there, nobody can smoke.


Like many activist lobbying organizations, the smoke-free groups aren’t stupid; hence they’ll approach the issue looking at the effect of smoke on the workers. Do workers have a choice on where they work and the negatives that go with that choice? Is mandating improved ventilation a realistic option? To what extent do we expect employers to create a low-risk work area?


On one hand, the law is the law; and the citizens should expect the state of Ohio to enforce its own laws. On the other hand, this is an example demonstrating the effect of voters enacting laws outside of the legislative process that may not be enforceable.


I don’t know if this is a Libertarian streak in me or not, but I’ve also offered the following advice. If one finds Playboy offensive, don’t buy it. If one finds gambling as evil, don’t go to a casino. If one thinks a news channel is biased, don’t watch it. If one finds Howard Stern obnoxious and offensive, don’t listen. If the business allows smoking and one finds smoking offensive, don’t seek its services. It’s not that hard!


Private clubs as Moose Lodges should be able to make their own rules regarding smoking, and then members and potential members can react accordingly. Businesses as bowling alleys, bars, and restaurants can determine if they will allow smoking or not, and the market forces can determine their success or failure. Since  a Land of Nannydom isn’t necessary, I’ll settle for fewer laws that protect people from themselves.