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Ohio smoking ban to clear the air in public

Proponents say the ordinance is pivotal for the Midwest.

December 06, 2006|Tim Jones | Chicago Tribune

COLUMBUS, OHIO — Smoking in Ohio is about to undergo a major change.

Starting on Thursday, the state will prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, bingo halls and private clubs. Even the last bastions of smoke-filled heaven -- bowling alleys -- will be off-limits.

This is the thrust of one of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the nation, approved by voters last month, making Ohio the first state in the Midwest to go smoke-free.

But the practical effect of the new law may reach far beyond Ohio. Supporters of smoking prohibitions in the workplace and entertainment facilities see the vote in Ohio as a possible tipping point -- an indication that years of resistance to smoking restrictions in the Heartland have been futile and that other states may follow.

"If Ohio can do it, any state in the country can do it," said Shelly Kiser of the American Lung Assn. of Ohio. "This movement is not going to stop here."

Eighteen states -- mostly in the Northeast and West -- have smoking bans, and three more were added as a result of public votes last month in Arizona, Nevada and Ohio.

"I think Ohio is a beachhead in the Midwest and a bellwether in the country," said Daniel Smith, president of the American Cancer Society's Action Network, which organizes legislative activities to pass smoke-free laws. "If you're smoke-free in the heart of the country, that suggests there is growing acceptance of the movement."

Smith said Illinois -- on the heels of Chicago passing a no-smoking ordinance -- and Minnesota were prime candidates for statewide efforts to restrict smoking. Smith said people were embracing the findings of scientific studies on the health effects of secondhand smoke. The movement is not just in the U.S., Smith said, pointing to smoking bans in Ireland and Scotland and proposed restrictions in continental Europe.

Some Ohio cities, including Columbus, had already enacted bans, but a statewide ban surprised opponents.

"I never thought I'd see the day," said Vickie Thompson. She and her husband, Ralph, own Brown's Grill and Bowling Lanes in Cleveland.

"I figure 60% of our customers smoke," she said.

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