LIMA — It’s been more than five years since the statewide smoking ban has taken effect, and health departments locally and at the state level have gradually dealt with more compliance and fewer complaints since the law passed.
It was a law with some contention in the beginning, with opponents saying businesses would lose customers, but the law holds more than 70 percent approval now, said Bill Kelly, Environmental Health Director for the Allen County Health Department. Enforcement has been an ongoing process for health departments.
“I think there might be some frustration that people aren’t seeing results,” Kelly said.
But he said it’s more likely that more businesses are compliant, and it’s an isolated few that receive multiple complaints.
But it’s been proven beneficial to Ohioans overall.
“Based on medical reports, there’s been an improvement in the health of Ohioans by not being subjected to secondhand smoke so routinely. So that’s good news to us,” Kelly said.
There have been 677 complaints reported in Allen County since 2007, resulting in 380 investigations. But the majority of those complaints were in the first two years. In 2011, there were 29 smoke-related complaints, and so far this year, only 19 complaints have been reported in Allen County. This has included businesses, stores in the mall, bars and hotels.
“It’s a complaint-driven program,” Kelly said. This means that residents themselves report incidents to the Ohio Department of Health, and then the county investigates each case when it's deemed necessary. They can call a toll-free number, email or mail their complaints.
“We are active in the program,” Kelly said, following up on most complaints before giving out warnings and fines, or dismissing them altogether. “It’s good for the citizens to not be subjected to secondhand smoke.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, a few local businesses have had five or more smoking complaints over the years, but most complaints have been dismissed without a warning or fine. Businesses are first given a warning, and then given fines that increase for each sequential, proven violation.
Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the Ohio Smoke Free Workplace Act in a unanimous vote.
In Putnam County as well as statewide, there has been a similar downward trend with smoke-related complaints. In 2007, the county peaked with 27 complaints. So far this year, there have been only three complaints.
“You can tell there’s more compliance than there used to be,” said Brad Price, Environmental Health Director at the Allen County Health Department. “We had a lot more when it first started, and then it sort of tapered off.”
There were 21,372 complaints across the state in 2007, whereas there are only 4,314 complaints so far this year.
This month marks six years since Ohio voters approved of the smoking ban. The ban officially went into effect in May 2007.