Smokers beware: Enforcement starts today.
The smoking ban, approved in November, now has teeth. The Ohio Department of Health has developed enforcement rules and procedures and left it up to local health departments to enforce the ban.
By now, establishments should have prohibited smoking, removed ashtrays and posted no-smoking signs with the toll-free enforcement number.
"Whoever calls the 1-800 number and registers a complaint, we have to respond to," said Peter Schade, Erie County Department of Health commissioner.
Calls to the enforcement number of 866-559-6446 will be recorded at the state level, and forwarded electronically to the local level. Callers should include the date, time, place and address of the complaint.
At that point, the local health department will conduct an investigation of the establishment.
"We have to go figure out if the complaint is justified, if they have ashtrays, if people there are smoking," Schade said.
If they find an establishment allows smoking, Schade said they will first issue a warning and discuss other options.
"Maybe a patio or another option for someone who wants to go outside and have a cigarette. We want everyone to understand the parameters of this law," Schade said. "We're viewing this whole law as an educational law. We're using it as a way to educate why we don't want smoke in public places."
Places that continue to allow smoking will be fined $100 for the second violation, $500 for the third violation, $1,500 for the fourth violation and $2,500 for any other violations.
Individuals will be a little harder to cite since the health department won't immediately respond. But repeated complaints about regular patrons could lead to a fine.
"If an investigation reveals an individual is doing it on a repeated basis, they will be served a civil violation as well," Schade said.
Individuals will be given a warning for the first violation and fined $100 for violations after that.
The health department has not yet received any additional funding from the state to enforce the ban. Schade said the department doesn't have the staff available to devote specifically to enforcing the ban. They will not patrol or do random checks.
"We're not hunting people down," Schade said. "Everything is coming through that hotline."
Schade expects $3,068 from the Ohio Department of Health in June 1 to offset enforcement costs.
"We're just asking everyone to work with us on this so we can move forward as a community to build a culture to support a smoke-free environment," he said.