Judge Puts ‘Private Club Smoking’ On Hold

A Franklin County judge has delayed a rule that exempted some private clubs from the state’s smoking ban. Judge David Cain issued a temporary restraining order Monday at the request of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, a bar owners’ trade group.

Reactions to Judge Cain’s 14-day restraining order were predictably mixed. Bill Selby runs VFW Post 1598 in Columbus.

“We are supposed to respect non-smokers’ rights,” Selby says. “Smokers don’t have any rights. We’ve been banned!”

Under a recently enacted health department rule, private clubs could allow patrons to smoke if club employees were also members. But Don McTigue, a local attorney for the American Cancer Society, said the language in the measure voters approved last fall, the so-called Issue 5, is clear.

“You can call them a member if you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re employees,” McTigue says. “And the law says a club is exempt only if it has no employees. What could be plainer than that?”

The state health department has its own interpretation according to spokesman Christopher Weiss.

“58% of Ohio voters approved Issue 5,” Weiss says. “What that made clear to us is that Ohioans want their bars and restaurants to be smoke free. However, if you look at Issue 5′s ballot language it’s also clear that Ohioans support an exemption for private clubs.”

But beverage association president Kathleen Bean says the private club rule far exceeds what voters intended. She says her group wants to ensure that businesses and private clubs are on equal footing as they compete for customers.

Then there’s the American Cancer Society which says it wants to eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke. Their attorney, Don McTigue, says employees should be protected from its “disastrous” and “toxic” effects.

“No employee should have to work in a toxic environment breathing second-hand smoke. That’s what the voters said. They wanted to clean up work places for all employees.”

Judge Cain’s temporary restraining order means the health department will now investigate complaints about smoking in private clubs. Judge Cain will hold another hearing May 14th and could extend the ban until he reaches a final decision.

The VFW’s Bill Selby says he sees it as a further erosion of democracy.

“The judge said ‘No, can’t smoke!’ They don’t think too much about the fact that veterans in private clubs have rights too. And some of these fellows up there in the bar have had traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War and smoking is a means of relaxation for them.

The Ohio Department of Health will begin investigating complaints about smoking on May 3rd.