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Ohio legislators propose bill allowing smoking in private clubs

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Two Ohio legislators have put forth legislation that would change the current indoor smoking ban and allow smoking at some private clubs.

The bill would give private club owners the choice to allow their employees to smoke if they wish, provided that the building has its own entrance and exit separate from any adjacent building. Different from the current law, the building would not have to be freestanding.

“We’re not intending to infringe on any rights of nonsmokers who do not want to be a part of a private club,” Joe Schiavnoi, D-Boardman, Ohio Senate minority leader and sponsor of the bill, said.

Any club that chooses to allow smoking would have to pay an annual $500 fee to the Department of Health. This money would help enforce the law elsewhere, particularly in counties that don’t have the monetary resources to make the issue a priority, said bill sponsor Joe Seitz, R-Cincinnati.

In 2006, Ohio’s Smoke-Free Workplace Act established the law against smoking in public places or places of employment. The initial ballot, titled the Ohio Smoking Ban Initiative, included language that said private clubs were exempt from the smoking ban.

“The day after the bill passed, the president of my country club called me up and said, ‘At least this doesn’t affect us since we’re a private club,’” Seitz said. “I said, ‘Well, guess what Joe. It does affect us because the fine print of the statute — that nowhere appeared on the ballot — said that private clubs were exempt only if they have no employees.’”

The updated adjustments to the bill are more reflective of what voters originally believed they were voting for in 2006, Seitz said.

“It was a case of deception by the original proponents of the law,” Seitz said. “They worded the ballot so misleadingly, so I view this as simply being true to what the voters thought they were voting on 10 years ago.”

In 2006, there was an exemption in the bill’s language that said if the private business had no employees, smoking could be allowed as long as it was in a freestanding building.

One of the restrictions in the 2016 proposal says private businesses must make sure that smoke does not travel through shared walls or ventilation to any other enclosed area where smoking is prohibited.

This is not a feasible requirement however, said Shelly Kiser, the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio.

“This would put the health of the workers in those buildings that are adjacent to the clubs in danger because it’s impossible to prevent the migration of smoke between businesses,” Kiser said. “There’s no technology that exists that could prevent smoke from migrating in between businesses.”

The expansion of smoking areas also has the potential to lead to more health problems for Ohioans, specifically for employees.

“This law would make workers choose between supporting their families and their health because this change will expose more people to secondhand smoke,” Kiser said. “It is known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other dangerous illnesses.”

These concerns are valid, according to Schiavoni, but the danger is not large enough to constitute a smoking ban for private institutions.

“I understand the dangers of smoke inhalation, but these specific employees of cigar clubs are going to be very limited, and they are going to make that decision on their own of whether or not that is a place that they would want to work,” Schiavoni said. “But I understand the concern, and I’m trying to work with any and all interested parties that want to have discussion about it. I understand that it’s a touchy subject.”

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