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Health officials fire up smoking ban

"Smoking or non-smoking?"

This question could soon become as outdated as "paper or plastic?" in restaurants and businesses in Ohio if a group of health officials has its way.

Smoking bans have become more and more common in the Tri-State.

Since early 2004, neighboring Cabell County, W.Va., has prohibited smoking in all public places except for bingo halls and freestanding bars, defined as businesses where more than 80 percent of revenue comes from alcohol.

In West Virginia, health departments can make bans such as this, a power that is not extended to health departments in Ohio, so bans are often enacted by municipalities, such as the one that was recently enacted in Columbus.

Columbus has not excluded bars as in Cabell County, instead making smoking completely illegal in all public places.

Maxine Lewis is the community tobacco prevention coordinator for Lawrence County.

Lewis and other members of the Lawrence County Health Department are currently working to place the following question on the November 2006, ballot in the state of Ohio asking, "Do you support smoke-free public places in Ohio?"

Similar bans are already in place in seven states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Although Lewis points to the cost of smoking on the health care and insurance systems as good reasons for combating second-hand smoke, she places one issue above all others.

"It's for everyone's health, the effect that tobacco has on the smoker and non-smoker alike," Lewis said. "It's astounding."

Although restaurant and bar owners are often the first to protest bans such as this, Lewis said most areas that have enacted the bans have found that the new laws haven't affected sales as much as suspected, due to a shift in patronage.

"Instead of it being the smoking public that's coming in, it's now the non-smoking public that's coming to the restaurants and bars and things like that," Lewis said. "So it has not been as adverse as people thought it would be.

Mary Dickess, owner of

"Shenanigans" in Ironton, said that as long as every bar is hit with the same ban, she wouldn't be too worried about her business.

"If it's mandatory, we wouldn't have any choice," Dickess said. "There wouldn't be much of a choice, it would be that way everywhere."

Dickess said she didn't believe bar patrons would begin staying at home as a result of the ban.

"No, I think people would just gripe about it for a while," Dickess said with a laugh.

Currently, Maxine Lewis is working with other anti-smoking advocates to get enough signatures to push their effort forward.

Approximately 100,000 signatures are needed this year, and again next year in order for the question to be placed on the ballot.