Most Smoking Fines in Ohio Are Going Unpaid
From May 2007 till April 2011, 2,353 fines were levied by state and local health departments. These fines comprise $2.2 million and were taken from those who have violated the smoking ban. But the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Attorney General’s office have managed to gather only a third of that, a Dayton Daily News analysis of state data found.
The percentage of fines has reduced each year. It was 81 % in 2007 and 26 % in 2010.
Consequently, some bar owners have decided not to keep within the law.
It was reported that the majority of bar owners observe the smoking ban by means of not allowing smoking cigarettes indoors. And according to them it is the best way to keep the law effective. But it is easy to find such establishments – they usually violate the ban openly.
Local health officials do not agree with the state’s enforcement efforts because 90 % of the fines collected are directed to investigations. As on April 30, $1.5 million in fines were unpaid.
“I think for an enforcement program to be effective, there has to be a hammer,” said Jim Gross, Montgomery County Health Commissioner. “And it’s pretty clear right now this program does not have an effective penalty system to change that behavior.”
Gross said that the county public health department has levied 158 fines totaling $220,000, but has received only $15,800 in collections from the state. Meanwhile, Gross said, the health district has to use Human Services Levy money to cover the $30,000 a year it costs to investigate complaints.
While Gross and other observers agree that the vast majority of establishments are complying, they admit that some continue to flout the law. When the state starts aggressively collecting those fines, they say, you’ll see the holdouts change their behavior.
Gross said that it is frustrating for many of the local health departments, including ours, to put the time and effort into it and then not be able to bring the enforcement process to a conclusion.
Indeed, violators of the smoking ban are easy to find.
Jacobs who spoke on condition that his bar would not be identified said that approximately 80 percent of the people in the bar smoke. “Some people do not smoke, but they still come in because they like the atmosphere.”
State records demonstrate that the bar has got seven complaints since 2007, although the last one was almost a year ago. It was fined $100 in February 2009.
Jacobs said the bar used to charge customers a quarter for each Altoids mint can offer as an ashtray but quit after collecting $900 in quarters. The tins are now offered free.
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