Indoor smoking ban upheld by state high court

Judges say an Ohio law does not violate the constitutional rights of private business owners.

By — Posted June 4, 2012

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The Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled constitutional a state law intended to reduce secondhand smoke by prohibiting smoking in workplaces and businesses.

Bar owners had sued the state to overturn the Smoke Free Workplace Act, saying the measure violated their property rights.

Physician organizations and others hailed the ruling as a significant public health victory.

“Ohio has seen a tremendous public health benefit since the passage of the [act] as this law protects the public from exposure to secondhand smoke in workplaces and public places,” Deepak Kumar, MD, president of the Ohio State Medical Assn., said in a statement.

The OSMA joined the Litigation Center for the American Medical Association and the State Medical Societies, the American Cancer Society and others in filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the law.

In November 2006, Ohio voters approved an initiative to enact the Smoke Free Workplace Act. The measure, which took effect in December 2006, prevents employers and business owners from permitting smoking in their establishments.

Shortly after the law went into effect, the Ohio Dept. of Health sued Zeno’s Victorian Village, a private bar in Columbus. The state said the bar failed to follow the law and pay fines related to violations, according to court documents.

The bar filed a countersuit, claiming that the law violated the Ohio Constitution. A trial court ruled in favor of the bar, saying the law was too strict and Ohio had exceeded its authority by enacting the measure.

The Ohio Dept. of Health appealed, and an appeals court overturned the decision. The bar requested that the state high court review the case.

In its May 23 opinion, the Supreme Court of Ohio said the state had the right to protect its citizens from the health dangers associated with smoking.

“We have previously stated that the General Assembly has the authority to enact a public-smoking ban,” the court said. “Although the [law] was ultimately passed pursuant to a ballot initiative, the voters of Ohio also have a legitimate purpose in protecting the general welfare and health of Ohio citizens and work force from the dangers of secondhand smoke in enclosed public places.”

Ruling consistent with other states

The decision is a disappointment for private property owners, said Maurice Thompson, an attorney for Zeno’s and executive director for the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit legal firm that advocates constitutional rights. Enforcing the smoking ban makes sense for places such as parks and grocery stores, but not for privately owned bars, he said.

“We believe that the Ohio Constitution limits the government’s ability to regulate private property,” he said. “Essentially, the ruling means there is no limit to what the government can do with private property rights.”

The court’s ruling is consistent with decisions in other states regarding the validity of smoking bans, said Peter H. Fisher, vice president of state issues for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington. The campaign participated in the friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Ohio law.

The majority of states have smoking restrictions, 26 of which have bans that include restaurants and bars, Fisher said.

The Ohio ruling “sends the message that these laws not only benefit health, but they have been deemed constitutional by state after state,” he said. These laws “have been the wave of the future for the last 10 years or so. Ultimately, every state will have a comprehensive ban.”

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External links

Theodore E. Wymsylo v. Bartec Inc., Supreme Court of Ohio, May 23 (link)

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