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Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Private club members may be able to light up

By Shelley Grieshop
Private clubs and veteran halls such as American Legions might be exempt from the new Ohio indoor smoking ban following a revision of the rules proposed by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
A revised version of the rules was filed Wednesday with the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are expected to consider the rules at their April 16 meeting.
Enforcement of the ban, which voters passed in November, could begin as early as May 1.
The proposed rules exempt private clubs if its employees are club members, paid or not. The previous version of the law stated exemptions applied only to clubs with no employees - paid or volunteer - members or not. The goal was to protect workers from second-hand smoke, according to advocacy groups like Smoke Free Ohio.
The clubs must be nonprofit and in a freestanding building.
The change to exempt nonprofit, private clubs reportedly was a result of numerous letters ODH received - many from veterans - and testimony given at several hearings held on the pending rules.
Don Lanthorn, director and legislative agent for the American Legion Department of Ohio, says he's not exactly celebrating the recent news.
"We've not seen anything in writing. I don't see it as cut in stone," he said.
Lanthorn said he's sure the idea isn't going to go over well with tavern owners, who he expects will strongly lobby against it. Although the proposal could make some private club members happy, he admits it creates an "uneven playing field."
Legion officials early on expected the smoking ban would change their clientele - smokers might stay away, nonsmokers or those with respiratory problems might sign on as new members.
"We did anticipate some loss of revenue," Lanthorn said. "Some have felt that already."
Although some clubs and bars enforced the smoking ban for a day or two after it took effect Dec. 7, it wasn't long before most ignored it and allowed patrons to light up after it was announced regulations would not be enforced until rules were passed.
During the last several months, private club representatives lobbied ODH for rules to reflect what they say many Ohioans thought they were voting for last November. Lanthorn referred to the ballot language as a "hook and crook" method that deceived many voters into believing private clubs would be exempted.
ODH officials say they got the message. The newest proposal states that clubs with members as employees can allow smoking if there are no nonmembers or children under 18 present.
Officials from Smoke Free Ohio stand firm that private clubs should not be exempt because their employees, as well as any other establishment, need protection from second-hand smoke.
"We have always and would continue to oppose any changes that would leave any employees unprotected," said Tracy Sabetta, co-chair of Smoke Free Ohio.
Lanthorn said it's obvious the new proposal won't please everybody.
"If it is passed, most American Legions will be pleased to have the exemption," Lanthorn said. "But I'm sure there will also be those who looked forward to coming to a smoke-free facility."
The latest change also states that violations cannot be solely based on an anonymous complaint and allows signage about the smoking ban to be posted in the ground near an entrance instead of being affixed to real property.
Warning letters will be sent to owners for a first violation. Civil fines include $100 for a second violation, $500 for a third, $1,000 for a fourth and $2,500 for fifth and subsequent violations.
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