Forum Center, 6/5

Ohio Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Smoking Ban

This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 25 states have passed laws banning smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars during the past 10 years. Assuming that trend continues, the entire nation could have similar bans by 2020, the report stated. Another 10 states prohibit smoking in one or two of those areas, but not all three. Seven states have no restrictions for work sites, restaurants or bars: Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Concern by government health officials and legislators over the effects of second-hand smoke have led to the passage of these laws. According to these health officials, smoking in public places, such as bars, leaves many bar workers and patrons exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke. Although these statistics have been disputed by the bar and restaurant industries, the CDC estimates that second-hand smoke causes an estimated 46,000 heart-disease deaths and 3,400 lung-cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmoking adults each year.

Ohio was an early participant in enacting these bans. In 2006, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a state-wide smoking ban in most indoor public places, including bars and restaurants. Bar and restaurant owner were angered by the bans.  Over the last few years a number of bars which have gone out of business blamed the smoking ban as the reason. Enforcement of the law has been spotty as both bars and law enforcement waited to see the how challenges to the law that were making their way through the courts were decided.

Last week the Ohio Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, upheld the ban. In doing so the court rejected the claim brought by a Columbus tavern owner arguing that the fines charged to businesses for violation of the law were an illegal taking of property and violated the state’s legitimate police power. As to be expected, public health and medical groups praised the ruling, while groups such as the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and the Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders Association, both opposed to the ban, say the ruling by the Court continues to hurt small businesses throughout Ohio. In writing the unanimous decision for the Court, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote, “The goal of this legislation is to protect the health of the workers and other citizens of Ohio. It does so by regulating proprietors of public places and places of employment in a minimally invasive way.”

Those who opposed the law argue that the state is chipping away at individual freedoms. They point out that no one is forcing patrons to either enter a bar or work at a bar or restaurant which chooses to allow smoking. Ironically, the Court’s decision was reported during the same week that Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced a ban on soft drinks larger than 16 oz. Some point to it as proof that an ever growing “nanny state” knows no limits as it continues to erode personal liberties – even to a point of telling us how much soda we can consume.

Forum Questions of the Week:

Do you agree with the Court’s decision to uphold the state smoking ban?  Do you agree that the ban is regulating in a “minimally intrusive” way?

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