Want to smoke in a bar? FINE.
The Erie County Health Department has given up using only persuasion to enforce the anti-smoking ban in local bars and restaurants. It's now levying fines.
Health officials mailed enforcement letters Friday to two local bars, Excuses Lounge in Perkins Township and the Knucklehead Saloon in Huron, informing them they have been fined $100 because they were caught in a second violation of the smoking rules.
"We didn't want it to come to that," Erie County health commissioner Peter Schade said. "They have obviously ignored the law and ignored our collegial requests."
Both businesses received warnings for first violations and face fines for alleged second violations.
Mary Dennis, director of community health for the health department, said she walked into Excuses on Thursday and found a customer smoking and using an ashtray. She said another customer had a mint candy tin in front of him and was sitting next to the owner, Terry Smith.
Dennis said the Knucklehead Saloon on Thursday had a customer sitting at a bar with cigarettes and a mint candy tin and there was "a strong odor of smoke." An ashtray was on the counter behind the bar, she said.
Smith said Friday he put up "No Smoking" signs in his business and took away ashtrays, leaving the tins in their place, when the state rules went into effect. He said he'll pay the fine.
He said many of his customers smoke. Between the no-smoking rules and the state's crackdown on gambling machines, he said, "I don't know how a bar can survive."
The owner of the Knucklehood Saloon, Joe Jenkins, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The two businesses facing fines have 30 days after they get the letter to ask for an administrative review. If they don't seek a hearing, they'll be invoiced for the $100.
Statewide, 133 businesses have received letters telling them they face $100 fines, and 65 of them have received invoices to pay the fine, said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the state health department. Another 11 businesses have been told they face $500 fines for a third violation, he said.
Huron County also has begun levying fines. The health department sent letters to two businesses about two weeks ago, notifying them that they will be fined $100, said the county's health commissioner, Tim Hollinger.
Health departments in Ottawa County and Sandusky County have not issued any fines yet.
Eight other businesses in Erie County have been warned about first violations and face a $100 fine if they are caught in a second violation, Dennis said. They are: 34 Degrees Bar and Grill, Huron; American Legion 397, Vermilion; American Legion 83, Perkins Township; Amvets 17, Sandusky; Fraternal Order of Orioles, Sandusky; Hy-Miler, Sandusky; Kamans Korner, Sandusky, and Keys Golf Course and Driving Range, Huron.