Bar owners in Erie County want to welcome back smokers.
They plan to lobby state lawmakers to change the state's anti-smoking law.
They apparently have work to do in convincing Erie County's two state lawmakers -- Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky, and Sen. Mark Wagoner, R-Toledo. Both said Monday they lean against changing the law.
Some 50 people, many of them bar owners, met Monday morning at UAW Local 913 hall on Hayes Avenue to rally against thesmoking laws.
Some puffed on cigarettes until they were told to put them out because a TV news crew was expected to show up.
Local bar owners who organized the event and representatives of two statewide groups talked about efforts to change the law.
The bar owner's chief ally in the Ohio Senate -- Sen. Robert Schuler, R-Sycamore Township -- plans to introduce a bill in the next few days that would roll back the smoking ban for family-owned taverns and private clubs, said Jacob Evans, general counsel and lobbyist for the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association.
Pat Carroll, president of the Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders Association, said the main job for bar owners should be to rally support for the bill.
Schuler introduced a similar bill last year that had 12 co-sponsors, but it died because supporters ran out of time.
"This time we're not going to run out of time," Carroll vowed.
But Murray said the bill also failed because it didn't have much support.
"I don't think it even got so much as a hearing last year, which gives you a strong indication of the amount of support it had," Murray said.
Murray said last year's bill would have restored smoking in bars and many privately-owned businesses, exposing hundreds of thousands of people to secondhand smoke. That would make a big change in a law that was approved by Ohio voters, he said.
He speculated that a more narrowly focused bill that only changed the smoking law for small taverns and for private clubs would be "a closer call, but it's something that I'm still not generally inclined to support."
Wagoner said if the no-smoking law is going to be changed, it should be changed by voters, not lawmakers.
"The smoking ban was put in place through a vote of the people," he said. "It was a statewide referendum ... Ohioans understood what they were voting for. We live in a democracy where the public rules."
Bar owners always have the right to launch a petition and put a proposal on the ballot, Wagoner added.
Evans and other speakers at Monday's rally argued that, with state tax revenues already plunging, it makes little sense for the state to continue to put taverns out of business.
He said 3,200 alcohol permit holders could not get their permits renewed this year because of tax or other financial problems.
Carroll argued that small businesses have always been the backbone of the state, but that government pressure seems bent on eliminating everyone except for "cookie-cutter" corporate chains.
Paul Hauke, owner of the Lake Wilmer Inn in Perkins Township, said tavern owners have been hammered with increased state fees and regulations.
He said the food license used to be an optional $15 fee. It became a mandatory $240 fee by 2007 and rose to $410 by 2008.
"It goes up so fast I can't keep up with it," Hauke said.