Some seek an exemption to smoking ban

A few local sites could have the option to permit smoking again, if a law being considered by Ohio legislators is eventually passed.

Senate Bill 295 would allow an exception to the 2006 statewide smoking ban for private clubs and cigar bars, allowing use of tobacco products including cigarettes and cigars inside private organizations even if connected to adjacent buildings (i.e. downtown areas or strip malls).

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, is sponsoring Senate Bill 295 with Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. They say the bill could provide economic and developmental growth in more urbanized areas with creation of cigar bars. Currently, tobacco products are not allowed to be smoked inside clubs that share a wall with another structure or have employees present.

Neither bill sponsor could be reached for comment Friday. However, Schiavoni said in a press release March 18 that his intent is to limit the exception to cigar bars and that he does not want to infringe on non-smokers.

Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said that after a recent hearing he’s not opposed to the idea but wants to learn more.

“The voters already spoke on the statewide smoking ban, so in terms of making exceptions I think we need to wait for more information,” he said. “I’m not closed off to the idea but would like to get more information on the pros and cons. I look forward to learning more if there are any additional hearings.”

While the bill, introduced the week of March 14, might make some smokers happy, it has faced much opposition, even at some sites that could be affected.

“I don’t think even smokers would want that to happen,” said Denise Tucker, an employee at the Marietta Moose Lodge #1823. “We are so used to not doing it inside, why would we go back?”

Tucker, a former smoker, said the 2006 anti-smoking law has bettered the health of everybody, smokers and non-smokers, and added that most people at the lodge don’t have a problem going outside and away from the door to smoke legally.

Some Marietta residents said pulling back on the ban sends a mixed message.

“Either you can smoke or you can’t,” said Teri Horn, 57, a non-smoker from Marietta. “Why put a law in place that bans smoking then try to adjust it to suite the needs of specific businesses? That makes no sense.”

Longtime smoker Sal Halibert, 62, of Marietta, said he sees things a little differently.

“Private establishments that are smoking driven, or even bars and nightclubs for that matter, should be able to create their own rules,” Halibert said. “Smoking goes with drinking and the nightlife environment. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. But don’t infringe on others that want to, I guess.”

Organizations that could directly benefit for this would include veteran and legion groups like the Moose Lodge, any VFW chapters, or Elks Lodge as well as those built solely for private smoking like the aforementioned cigar bars which are more popular in urban landscapes.

Areas not affected by this exception would be motels that offer a portion of rooms up to non-smokers, nursing homes, child care facilities within personal residences and retail tobacco stores.

Also, any club going member according to this amendment still needs to be of a legal smoking age, which is 18.

Under the bill, clubs would pay a $500 annual fee to the state’s Smoke Free Indoor Air Fund. In addition, this bill would also allow clubs with certain liquor permits to stay open until 2:30 a.m. instead of the current 1 a.m.