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Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Smoking ban law causes more confusion in county

By Shelley Grieshop
A local night club's recent appeal of an alleged smoking ban violation has opened up a can of worms for health officials who are struggling to follow the vague wording of the new law.
The question of where ashtrays can be placed inside bars and clubs became the topic of discussion Wednesday afternoon at the monthly meeting of the Mercer County-Celina City Health Board. Michelle Kimmel, the county's environmental director, interpreted the state's smoking ban law to mean ashtrays are not allowed inside any public building - stored or in public view - or a violation is to be issued. She has been issuing citations to bar and tavern owners who store the trays behind the bar, she told board members.
However, following the meeting The Daily Standard contacted Ohio Department of Health spokesman Kristopher Weiss, who said storing ashtrays behind a bar is "OK." He said empty ashtrays can be stored inside because they are allowed in outdoor patios.
Illusions Nite Club in Celina was issued a warning in December - its first ever smoking violation - following a visit by Kimmel, prompted by a complaint lodged against the club in November. She told board members she found empty ashtrays stored on the back side of the bar.
Owners David and Georgia Woodward are challenging the warning and seeking a formal review of the matter. In their protest letter they said the ashtrays Kimmel found were clean and made available by them only when their customers enter the business with lit cigarettes.
"An ashtray is the proper and safe way to dispose of lighted smoking material, and in our case, must be readily available for these people to extinguish their smoking material when they are asked to," the Woodwards wrote in their letter to the health department.
Kimmel told The Daily Standard this morning she, too, spoke with a state health department official after Wednesday's meeting and received the same information - ashtrays are allowed to be stored behind a bar.
Kimmel said she is frustrated with the vague wording of the law, which says ashtrays can be stored in a public building if that area has "no public access." The gray area is what is considered having "public access."
She told her contact at the state she wants a more detailed explanation of ashtray placement "in writing" and is awaiting that information before proceeding or dismissing the case against Illusions.
"This is so frustrating," she said. "I feel like they keep changing the rules as we go."
Weiss said he's not sure how the local department should proceed with businesses that were previously cited for similar ashtray violations. He suggested Kimmel either seek guidance from the local prosecutor's office or tap state officials for help.
Additional online stories on this date
A state of emergency has been declared for Mercer and Auglaize counties following heavy rains this week that caused extensive flooding.
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An explosion Wednesday afternoon outside the former Mersman Furniture factory in Celina rattled windows in nearby homes and the nerves of residents in the neighborhood. [More]
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