The 7-0 decision the Ohio Supreme Court handed down Wednesday was a strong smack down of the defiant, so-sue-me posture some businesses have adopted toward the state’s ban on smoking in places of employment and public areas.
Ohio voters in 2006 approved a ballot initiative enacting the ban to protect employees and customers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Under the Smoke Free Act, employers violating the prohibition face fines.
Zeno’s Victorian Village, a Columbus bar, was cited multiple times for smoking violations, accumulating $33,000 in fines, none of which it paid. Challenging the law and the fines, Zeno’s raised familiar objections by bars and restaurants: that the law unfairly penalized businesses for customer violations, restricted arbitrarily the use of private property and thus was unconstitutional.
It is heartening that the justices were unanimous in rejecting Zeno’s arguments. Upholding the law, the court wrote, “It is not unreasonable or arbitrary to hold responsible proprietors ... for failure to comply with the Smoke Free Act.” Neither did the court find the law “unduly oppressive.”
The Zeno’s case cited overwhelming evidence of intentional violations. The Columbus Dispatch has reported that bars and other establishments owe a total $2.5 million in fines, with more than 1,000 violations pending. The ruling strengthens significantly the hand of the state Department of Health to engage defiant establishments. The law has teeth sharp enough to protect public health.