Sunday, October 24, 2004

Would smoking ban singe business?

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

After almost two months of work, a 30-member panel studying a potential smoking ban in Cincinnati plans to complete its report by late November.

The panel appears to agree that breathing secondhand smoke poses increased health risks. But members disagree sharply over the potential economic impact of banning smoking at bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and bingo parlors.

Smoking-ban opponents predict disaster, citing informal surveys from business owners. They fear that businesses might be forced to close or lay off employees because of drops in revenue.

Smoking ban supporters, who include members of the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society in Cincinnati, say those claims are exaggerated. They point to strong sales tax data from U.S. cities that already have smoking bans. They say a smoking ban is a workplace safety issue.

Nationwide, more than 1,700 cities and 10 states have comprehensive clean indoor air legislation, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation in Berkeley, Calif.

In Cincinnati, the two sides might have to strike a compromise - perhaps a neutral statement declaring that a smoking ban will have an impact on the hospitality industry but avoids judging the effect to be positive or negative, panel members said.

Despite the panel's polarization, talks have been cordial, and members have made significant progress, said Bobbie Sterne, the panel's co-chairwoman.

"We're not really quarrelling about the health side of things anymore," Sterne said. "It's trying to determine what the economic impact will be."

Tom Ford, co-owner of Murphy's Pub in Clifton Heights, agreed.

"Nobody's going to argue that secondhand smoke is good for you, but a ban is something that will make it tough for small businesses," Ford said.

The panel's report is due to City Council by year's end, but there's no guarantee that council will vote on the issue this year.

Mayor Charlie Luken has told health advocates that he is wary of Cincinnati sticking its neck out on this issue. He said he fears that a smoking ban will put city businesses at a competitive disadvantage with Northern Kentucky and surrounding Ohio suburbs, although there's no marketing data to support that claim.


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