Enforcers of Ohio’s new smoking ban have heard about 200 complaints a day accusing business of allowing people to light up or leaving out ashtrays.
The complaints, which have been mostly against bars, have been coming into the Ohio Department of Health’s toll-free hot line since May 3, when the ban started against smoking a most public indoor locations. In a little over three weeks, the state received 4,251 complaints, Health Department spokesman Bret Atkins said.
Most complaints were about businesses where smoking has continued, but some calls reported “no smoking” signs were not displayed properly.
Summit County Health Commissioner Gene Nixon warned that a complaint does not prove a violation occurred.
“This is a completely unverified list,” he said of the 220 complaints in the county, including 164 from Akron.
Health Department spokesman Kristopher Weiss said he thinks compliance is generally going well.
Once a complaint has been lodged, the state Health Department notifies county authorities, who send a written notice with the details of the allegation.
Businesses have 30 days to comply and risk fines ranging from $100 for a second violation to $2,500 for five or more infractions. No fines have been assessed yet because the enforcement is less than 30 days old.
“If they’re basically snubbing their noses at us and continue to allow smoking, that’s when the fines begin,” said Terry Tuttle, the Summit County Health Department’s director of environmental services.
In Allen County in northwest Ohio, some warnings have been sent out and some investigations have started, said Bill Kelly, the Health Department’s environmental director.
He believes most places want to comply with the ban and will end up following the law, he said.
Charlotte Parsons, health commissioner in neighboring Auglaize County, said her office has received multiple complaints against some locations.
“We have a few holdouts that have been reluctant to confront patrons and ask them to stop smoking,” she said.
Voters approved the smoking ban in November, but enforcement didn’t begin until May to give officials a chance to finalize the rules and outline a complaint and punishment procedure. In the interim, state health officials received more than 17,000 reports alleging violations.