SMOKE SIGNALS: Health commissioner follows up on complaints

SANDUSKY Erie County Health Commissioner Pete Schade parked his pickup truck Tuesday morning at the
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Erie County Health Commissioner Pete Schade parked his pickup truck Tuesday morning at the Hy-Miler on west Venice Road in Sandusky and hurried into the store ahead of the rest of his group, hoping to catch a smoker.

As he walked inside, he found a store employee puffing on a cigarette, confirming complaints telephoned to the health department that employees at the store have been smoking after the statewide smoking ban went into effect.

"He had the door open," Schade said. "He was blowing it outside the door."

"If you want to smoke, you have to go completely outside," Schade told the employee.

The employee declined comment.

The health department is charged with enforcing the new law against smoking indoors, cracking down on smoking in restaurants, bars, private clubs and other public smoking places. Schade isn't just sitting behind his desk and telling subordinates to do the legwork.

He spent several hours Monday and Tuesday with Community Health Director Mary Dennis personally following up on some of the complaints that have been phoned in about 65 different locations in Erie County.

Schade and Dennis were pleased by what they saw during some of their Tuesday morning visits.

At the TGI Friday's restaurant next to Castaway Bay, the two noted the prominently displayed "No Smoking" signs at the doors and the absence of ashtrays in the restaurant or the patio by the door.

They told Manager Nicki Ferguson they are happy with the restaurant and they'll dismiss the complaint turned in about smoking taking place on the patio.

It's natural the restaurant will attract tourists who aren't from Ohio and have to be told about Ohio's new smoking law, Schade said.

"If a guy walks into Friday's with a cigarette, I don't think it's Friday's fault," Schade said.

"We want to be reasonable," Dennis added.

Schade and Dennis also were pleased by the conduct and attitude of employees and officials at an AMVETS on Putnam Street and the Eagles Club on West Perkins, although AMVETS trustee Al Kidd warned Schade, "I will not ask a Medal of Honor winner to put a cigarette out."

At the Orioles Club on Milan Road, however, Schade counted 17 ashtrays at the bar. At the Pump Bar & Grille on Hayes Avenue, workers were laboring on an outdoor patio for smokers. Indoors, Dennis could not find any "No Smoking" signs but did spot an ashtray and a cigarette butt on the floor.

Dennis explained she did not expect to begin issuing fines for another couple of months. Businesses are allowed time to dispute complaints and get only a letter of warning for a first offense.

Fines start at $100 but can reach $2,500 per violation per day, and even that can be doubled by court order, Dennis said.

The health department would rather get voluntary compliance rather than have to resort to fines, Schade said.