Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Columbus smoking ban stirs activists here

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati advocates of a ban on smoking in the workplace, including bars and restaurants, say they are buoyed by the movement's success in Columbus.

But at the same time, opponents in Cincinnati are starting to organize.

The Cincinnati Clean Indoor Air Coalition, an advocacy group funded with money from the national tobacco settlement, commissioned a telephone survey in April of 500 registered Cincinnati voters. Sixty-four percent said they would support a law prohibiting smoking in the workplace, bars and restaurants.
Top-ranking officials from the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association of Southwest Ohio met this week with Mayor Charlie Luken.

Vice President Ken Rehm said the group's 200 members - half of whom own bars and restaurants in Cincinnati - oppose any attempt by the city to snuff out smoking because it will drive customers - and business - out of the city.

"We're in the hospitality business, so it's our job to take care of customers - both smokers and nonsmokers," Rehm said. "I think we do a pretty good job of that already with designated smoking sections and air-ventilation systems."

Rehm will try to do what his sister group in Columbus was unable to.

Columbus City Council passed a smoking ban Monday night, 5-1, dealing a blow to that city's Licensed Beverage Association, which had fought the measure.

The Columbus law takes effect Sept. 26. But a group of businesses and organizations opposed to the ban may use a petition drive to put a referendum before voters on Nov. 2.

In Cincinnati, the debate is just beginning. Vice Mayor Alicia Reece wants the city's Health Department to form an advisory committee by August. Public hearings could follow.

Luken said he doesn't mind having a public discussion, but he's concerned that a smoking ban would put city business owners at a competitive disadvantage, particularly with entertainment districts across the river in Newport and Covington.

Rehm concedes that a smoking ban may not hurt all restaurants. In fact, 235 eateries in Cincinnati and 125 in Northern Kentucky already are smoke-free by choice, according to health department data.

But a government-imposed smoking ban could drop revenues as much as 40 percent in stand-alone bars, bingo halls and bowling alleys, Rehm said.

Advocates of clean indoor air legislation, which include the local chapters of the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, say those claims are exaggerated.

Economic data from around the country shows that patrons of bars and restaurants don't dramatically change their behavior in the wake of smoking bans, they say.

In March, for example, New York City released a study showing that in the first 10 months of its smoking ban - from April 1 to Jan. 31, 2003 - business-tax receipts in restaurants and bars were up 8.7 percent compared with the previous year.

Advocates also say that no ventilation system can remove all secondhand smoke and its risks.

"We plan to build on the Columbus experience," said Ahron Leichtman, director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition on Smoking and Health. "To their credit, the community leaders and citizens of Columbus recognize that it is a matter of protecting the health of workers and the public."

Exposure to secondhand smoke, a carcinogen, leads to as many as 50,000 deaths each year from heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, 1,700 cities, including Toledo, and six states, including California and New York, have smoking restrictions.


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