While complaints are declining and compliance is growing, Ohio is struggling to enforce law
Lance Lambert reports:
Fines levied by health authorities under Ohio’s 5-year-old workplace smoking ban usually aren’t paid, an Enquirer analysis shows. About $3.3 million in fines have been levied statewide, yet $2.5 million remains unpaid.
The analysis also shows two Southwest Ohio counties rank atop the state for repeat smoking ban violations.
The lag in paying fines has occurred even as smoking complaints have continued to decline annually as compliance appears to be growing.
Voters approved the smoking ban in 2006 and it went into effect in 2007. Since then the Smoke-Free Workplace Act – a ban on smoking inside buildings with at least one employee and that allow the public inside with the exceptions of hotels and nursing homes – has resulted in 64,000 complaints.
The Enquirer analyzed all complaints and fines since the law went into effect. Statewide complaints have been made against about 16,800 locations.
Inspections following the complaints resulted in 2,981 fines totaling just over $3.3 million against 1,408 establishments. As of early October about $2.5 million, or 77 percent, remains unpaid, Ohio Department of Health records show.
In the four Southwest Ohio counties 8,456 complaints were made against 2,261 locations, the analysis shows. Inspections made after the complaints resulted in 385 fines totaling $532,800 being issued against 128 locations. State records show $443,385 (or 83 percent) of that total hasn’t been paid.
After 45 days, the unpaid fines are transferred from the health department to the Ohio Attorney General for collection.
Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office “sent a letter to debtors with unpaid smoking fine accounts after the Ohio Supreme Court upheld” the constitutionality of the smoking ban in March 2012, spokesman Dan Tierney said. The decision ended a protracted legal fight against the ban by some tavern and restaurant owners.
Since the letter was sent, fines paid this year have doubled, Tierney said. (more…)