DAYTON — Tens of thousands of complaints about violations of Ohio’s new smoking ban — many from the same few businesses — have resulted in just hundreds of fines, leading county heath departments to say they plan to step up enforcement of the law.
Fines for violating the ban, which outlaws indoor smoking in most public places, are about to get bigger and more frequent for delinquent business owners, health officials warned. The ban was approved by Ohio voters in November 2006.
Southwestern Ohio health departments began enforcing the law on May 3, and have since logged more than 19,000 violations, or about 100 a day, on 7,300 establishments. Of those violations, only about 230 fines were issued, according to Ohio Department of Health data from the first seven months of enforcement.
The law calls for a graduated series of punishments: After an initial warning, a second violation is $100, growing to $2,500 for fifth and subsequent violations. But that could soon change.
In Montgomery County, where almost 1,300 complaints have resulted in only 58 warnings and 10 fines, officials said they’ve cleared administrative hurdles and are ready to issue big fines.
“It’s going to be our strategy to double the second fine,” said Alan Pierce, a supervisor of general services at Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County. “So instead of $500, we can go for $1,000.”
Private clubs are among the state’s worst offenders, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of the state smoking complaint data.
Of the top 10 targets of smoking complaints in the state, eight are private clubs. And members of the Moose and Eagles lodges,
Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Amvets call in nearly a quarter of all smoking ban violation complaints.
The Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 501 in Middletown in southwestern Ohio received the largest number of complaints from disgruntled patrons: 183. The next biggest offender is an Eagles lodge in Toledo that has collected 108.
“We’ve got to be setting some kind of a record or something,” said Jerry Gabbard, the Middletown Moose lodge administrator.
Gabbard, a smoker, says the lodge no longer allows smoking inside, but health officials are skeptical and complaint data from the Ohio Department of Health show that the club provoked 59 complaints in November.
The Butler County Health department has twice logged violations on visits to the lodge, meaning it’s facing a $100 fine, said Jeff
Agnew, chief of environmental services for the Butler County Health Department. The lodge has asked for an administrative review that will delay the final disposition.
Some business owners said that so many customers left when the ban went into effect that their establishments ignore the law in an attempt to hold on to regular customers.
“To be truthful with you, we’re still smoking,” said Rick Younce, manager of VFW Post 2800 in Dayton. “If you don’t, you ruin your business.”
Younce said most of the 43 complaints against his post to date came from three members. The post has received one warning, and isn’t planning to make any changes — at least not while the fines are still low.
“When we have to pay a big fine, then we’ll see what happens,” he said.