No-smoking crackdown fires up some bar owners

By William k. Alcorn

A bar owner said if she enforced the smoking ban, she wouldn’t have a business.

AUSTINTOWN — The Mahoning County Board of Health is stepping up its enforcement of the smoke-free workplace law, a move that has some business owners fuming.

Health Commissioner Matthew Stefanak said department sanitarians issued notices of violation, which occurred on Feb. 12, to two bars in Austintown and one in Sebring, businesses that had previously received violation warning letters.

Stefanak said the sanitarians were accompanied by police in both communities.

“They are health enforcement officers, but are not armed. So, we turned to the police for help,” he said.

The Austintown bars cited are: Ball Buster’s, 3661 Mahoning Ave., and Billy’s, 40 S. Meridian Road. The Sebring bar is Birdie’s Recreation, 126 E. Oregon Ave.

They could be fined up to $1,000 each, Stefanak said.

The health department can respond only to complaints that have been filed with the Ohio Department of Health. The objective of the smoking ban is to protect workers and customers from the dangers of second-hand smoke, officials have said.

There have been 541 complaints filed in Mahoning County since enforcement of the law began in earnest in May 2007. The number of complaints has tapered off over time to an average of one or two a week, and most of those are from just a few places, Stefanak said.

The alleged violators have 30 days in which to appeal, which is what Jim Krokoski, co-owner of Ball Buster’s, says he plans to do.

He said enforcement of the law is unfair, and he and other bar owners are working to get it changed.

“My biggest problem is that someone can just call in a complaint, whether they have been in my bar or not, and that’s the end of it,” Krokoski said.

Stefanak said complaints can be anonymous.

“I have 30 days to respond, so we do, every time. We do not smoke in here. We have signs posted and a roofed patio [outside] where people can smoke. My barmaids do the best they can, but they can’t watch everybody, and I can’t afford to hire a smoking patrol,” Krokoski said.

A health department sanitarian came in at 8:30 p.m.. He shows his badge, said he saw two people smoking, and walked out the door, Krokoski said.

“I’m doing the best I can. We adhere to the law. I have ashtrays. We don’t have anything for smoking in here. I can’t afford fines. I’m losing enough business as it is,” he said.

Caren Schindler, owner of Birdie’s in Sebring for five years, said she wouldn’t have a business at all if she strictly enforced the smoking ban.

Schindler said her customers, mostly construction workers, come in after work for a beer and a smoke. “I don’t hold a gun to nobody’s head and make them come in here.”

She said she was fined $100 for not having a “no smoking” sign at her side door. She said she has signs posted on the front door and inside.

“Absolutely nothing,” she said, when asked what she plans to do about the notice of violation and fine.

“I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong. The sanitarian said he fined me because I had a couple of smoking violation warning letters. They are going to put small businesses out of business,” she said.

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