'No smoking' rules questioned PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Written by By JAN LARSON Sentinel County Editor   
Friday, 05 February 2010 10:38
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Jeff's Bar and Grill in Bradner has posted "no smoking" signs and has removed ashtrays. When customers light up, the bartender tells them to snuff out their cigarettes. But if the customers refuse, does the bar need to do more to comply with the Ohio Smokefree Workplace Law?
That question came up at an administrative hearing Thursday held by the Ohio Department of Health. Jeff's Bar and Grill, owned by Jeff Lentz, of Bradner, has been cited for four violations of the smokefree law in the past two years.
The Wood County Health Department sent Lentz a warning letter for the first violation, issued a $100 fine for the second, and then a $500 fine for the third. The fourth violation came with a heftier fine of $1,000. Lentz objected and asked for an administrative hearing.
Evidence was submitted, showing reports of the smoking violations on four occasions at the Bradner bar. The most recent, on Oct. 12 of last year, was cited in a report by Wood County Health Department sanitarian Ted Hartwell, after he observed three people smoking at the bar. His report stated that the bartender walked past the smoking customers and said nothing to them about extinguishing their cigarettes.
Though Hartwell has since retired and was out of state during the hearing, his supervisor, Brad Espen, testified about Hartwell's reliability as an employee, having completed 326 smoking investigations for the health department.
Lentz said he was not at the bar when Hartwell was there inspecting, but he testified he tries to comply with the smokefree law.
"We haven't permitted smoking," he said. "My employees are required to tell people not to smoke."
The bartender on duty that night, Julie Foster, admitted that customers were smoking in the bar on Oct. 12, but testified that she did ask them to stop. When asked by an attorney from the Ohio Attorney General's office, Foster answered that if customers don't comply she does not stop serving them alcohol, does not ask them to leave the bar, and has never called to report the smoking violation to the state's tip line.
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Foster said she would not be comfortable throwing a customer out of the bar, and had never been offered training by the health department on how handle non-compliant customers.
Bradner resident Mick Torok testified that he was in Jeff's Bar and Grill the evening of the inspection. He also said he has been asked to put out his cigarettes at the bar on several occasions.
"I've refused. I continue smoking," he said.
Torok said he had been told that the health department wouldn't target individuals for smoking violations, so he had little motivation to comply. He added that a couple $100 fines would probably convince him to not smoke in the bar.
Torok said Jeff's Bar and Grill has fulfilled its requirements by posting "no smoking" signs and removing ashtrays.
"He's doing everything he can," he said of Lentz.
The hearing officer, Richard Mellott Jr., said he could not rule on the smoking violation until he heard arguments from the state and Lentz's attorney about what a business is expected to do if a customer refuses to comply.
"Reading the statute, it is not clear what the next step should be," Mellott said. Once those are submitted, Mellott will rule on the violation.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 February 2010 10:46
 

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