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Could Ohio be smoke free?

Jacob Palte doesn’t want to stop smoking at work.

After bartending at Kamikaze’s for almost two years, one reason Palte took the position at the downtown Bowling Green club is because when he takes a break, he isn’t forced to go outside to have a cigarette.

“We aren’t allowed to smoke while we’re working,” he said, “But I can stay inside the bar to smoke on my breaks, which is a good part of this job.”

But whether Palte will be able to continue smoking at work will be determined when Ohio voters decide on two ballot measures – Issue 4 and Issue 5 – on Nov. 7.

If passed, Issue 4, sponsored by the Smoke Less Ohio campaign, would enact a constitutional amendment permanently prohibiting the Ohio legislature from ever banning smoking outright in bars.

A bar is defined by Issue 4 as any establishment that sells alcohol for on-premises consumption and makes no more than 60 percent of its total revenue from food sales.

Issue 4 would also exempt bowling alleys, bingo halls and “any facility or business establishment from which minors are prohibited” from facing smoking bans. It would allow smoking in eating establishments as long as the smoking section is completely separated from the rest of the restaurant by walls or doors.

Meanwhile Issue 5, supported by the Smoke Free Ohio campaign, would create a state law banning smoking almost altogether in all places of employment – including all bars, bowling alleys and restaurants, without exception.

If both measures pass, Issue 4’s constitutional amendment would supersede Issue 5’s law and could not be reversed unless another amendment to the constitution was made.

Issue 4 would also strike down local ordinances already existing in 21 Ohio cities, including Bowling Green, that currently restrict or ban smoking in public places.

Beth Bickford, executive director for the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners, which supports Issue 5, said it is crucial for voters to understand the difference between the two issues.

“The Smoke Less Ohio campaign deliberately chose a name similar to Smoke Free Ohio to confuse the public,” she said. “If people think voting yes on both of these issues will minimize smoking in public places, they are wrong.”

Bickford said people should be aware that Issue 4 fails to consider the rights of employees who are exposed to secondhand smoke regularly at their workplaces.

“The rights of the workers are just as significant as the people who are customers,” she said. “People have the right to smoke, but they should not have the right to smoke where others are working.”

Bickford said many college students should vote yes on Issue 5 because they are the people most often employed in smoke-filled environments like bars and clubs.

“Everyone deserves to work in an environment where they won’t be exposed to secondhand smoke, because that exposure is a health risk,” she said. “There’s just no debate about that anymore.”

But Jacob Evans, a spokesman for Smoke Less Ohio, said many employees at bars tend to be like Palte – they elect to work in places where they are permitted to smoke.

“Studies show a higher number of hospitality workers are smokers,” he said.

And while employees’ rights are important, Evans said, so are the rights of business owners to prosper and run their establishments how they choose.

“There’s no reason we should be able to tell owners that how they have kept their doors open for years by allowing smoking is wrong and that they can’t do it anymore,” he said. “To say [these businesses] would face no economic impact by banning smoking is not true.”

In Bowling Green, many local business owners agree with Evans.

Bill Wammes, manager at Al-Mar Lanes on North Main Street, said his bowling alley has already taken enough measures to appease non-smoking clients and employees.

Smoking at Al-Mar Lanes is confined to certain areas of the building and non-smoking bowlers can enjoy no smoking until 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We’ve done everything we can to make it fair to everybody,” Wammes said. “But our business depends on our league bowlers and 60 percent of them are smokers.”

Curt Hock, manager at Howard’s Club H, said a smoking ban would have “a very negativåe effect” on the bar.

“We will make a lot less money if this happens,” Hock said. “People who smoke think they have to do it, and they’re not coming out here if they can’t.”

Hock said Howard’s has spent thousands of dollars installing an air-filtering system in the bar to offer employees some protection from secondhand smoke.

“[Our employees] have the choice to work wherever they want,” he said. “If you don’t like alcohol or smoking or music, then you probably shouldn’t work in a bar.”

But not all bar-going students in Bowling Green are satisfied with this logic.

“I go to the bar to enjoy myself and to me the smoking is unwelcome and disgusting,” senior Derrin Kuhn, a non-smoker, said.

Junior Tara McComb, a non-smoker, agreed.

“I’ve come home from the bars sick because the smoke was so bad,” she said.

But some smokers feel Issue 5 will interfere with a right they’ve come to expect.

“The bar atmosphere has always been smoky,” said senior Stefany Meryo, a smoker. “I don’t mind waiting an hour to smoke if I’m in a restaurant, but you can’t expect someone not to smoke in a bar.”

Still other students, like Shaun Fianagan, sophomore, aren’t sure how to settle the issue.

“[Smoking] at the bar has never bothered me much,” he said. “But I guess it says something when there are other people who are so against it.”

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