Columbus bar to appeal smoking-ban ruling

A Victorian Village bar plans to appeal a court ruling that state officials didn’t overstep their bounds when they repeatedly cited the establishment for violating Ohio’s smoking ban.

Zeno’s Victorian Village is fighting a two-pronged battle against the 2006 anti-smoking law, saying it shouldn’t apply to family-owned bars and that authorities are unfairly punishing bars for violating the ban rather then the smokers themselves.

This week, the Franklin County Court of Appeals handed Zeno’s a big setback. In a 3-0 ruling Tuesday, judges overturned a trial court’s decision that dismissed more than $30,000 in fines against Zeno’s. The trial court concluded that authorities had singled out bars and restaurants for penalties while refusing to cite smokers who violated the ban.

The trial court’s February ruling never affected how state and local health departments enforce the no-smoking law. As of the end of August, more than 2,500 fines have been issued to violators totaling nearly $1.2 million, according to the Ohio Department of Health. State and local officials have collected about $400,000 of that amount.

All of the fines have been issues against businesses rather than smokers.

Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Jennifer House said the appeals court’s ruling simply reaffirms how health authorities have been enforcing the law since early 2007.

“We always believed that the appellate court would uphold the way we do enforcement,” House said.

Anti-smoking groups have released a series of polls since 2007 showing widespread support for the ban, which was approved by 58 percent of voters in November 2006.

Still, many bars have complained that it has hurt their business and done little to protect public health.

Maurice Thompson, attorney for the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative group representing Zeno’s, said the next step is the Ohio Supreme Court.

He said Zeno’s and other bars will continue to press the argument that the ban shouldn’t apply to small, family-owned bars whose business consists predominately of liquor sales rather than food.

“The public-health concerns for a stadium or a family-oriented place are different from a place where people go to drink and smoke,” Thompson said.


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