The bar owners' initiative would ban smoking in workplaces other than 'hospitality venues.'
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Dueling statewide smoking bans could be on tap for the November election as the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and others try to gather enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
SmokeFreeOhio is also attempting to get a smoking ban on the ballot. Their proposal would ban smoking in any public places, including workplaces.
The OLBA proposal is for a constitutional amendment that would ban smoking in public places with a variety of exceptions including bars, enclosed designated areas in restaurants, bowling centers, bingo halls and fraternal organizations.
"One is a prohibitive, scorched-earth policy," said Jacob Evans, vice president of government affairs for the OLBA. "Ours is a reasonable approach." He said the issue involves hospitality venues that have a responsibility to serve their customers, including their smoking customers.
He added that it should be a businesses owner's choice to prohibit smoking and that a general ban would hurt Ohio businesses.
Wendy Simpkins of SmokeFreeOhio said her group believes every Ohio worker should have the right to work in a smoke-free environment.
"Everybody has the right to breathe clean air," she said. "All workers deserve the same level of protection." Simpkins said workers shouldn't be forced to choose between their health and a job.
Evans said workers make the decision on where they want to work.
"Not every job is exactly what everyone wants," he said. "You have to weigh the pros and cons."
Both groups believe they hold the interest of the majority of Ohio voters.
According to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, getting the constitutional amendment on the November ballot will require nearly 323,000 registered voters to sign petitions. That is 10 percent of the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial election.
The signatures must come from at least 44 of the 88 counties in Ohio.
The petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State's Office by Aug. 9, and the signatures will be verified by the county boards of election.
Groups circulating petitions
According to Evans, the petitions have already begun circulating. He said he expects many in the hospitality industry to take an interest in helping collect the required signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
"It will be a real grass-roots effort," Evans said.
He said the petitions could also be found on the Internet soon.
"What we're trying to put on the ballot is reasonable and what people want," Evans said.
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro's office approved the language for the OLBA petitions earlier this month.
SmokeFreeOhio is expected to begin collecting a second round of signatures for its proposal soon. The group needs nearly 100,000 more signatures from registered voters for the issue to be placed on the ballot.
Simpkins said the group is more than confident they'll get the required signatures.
Having both the issue and the constitutional amendment on the ballot could lead to voter confusion, according to Simpkins.
She said the proposal backed by the OLBA would lead voters to believe it is the same as the SmokeFree issue. She said voters would also not realize it would overturn smoking bans already in place in a number of cities across the state and would prohibit local communities from regulating smoking in the future.