Sunday, January 02, 2000

Hamilton considering smoke-free restaurants

County may get request to join

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — When Gina Myers moved her Italian restaurant to a new downtown location last year, she eliminated smoking for her customers and employees.

        She had a practical reason. She had spent a lot of time and money to paint and decorate the new place, and she didn't want it to turn brown with cigarette stains.

        Now it seems Ms. Myers was a trendsetter.

        In a move certain to get smokers steaming, Hamilton officials want other Butler County communities to ban smoking in public buildings, including restaurants.

        “We are concerned about employees who are exposed to smoke for lengthy periods of time,” said Dr. William Karwisch, who directs Hamilton's health department. “They are working for long periods and getting more smoke than the patrons. So it's also an occupational issue.”

        Alison Diver, health educator for the Middletown Department of Health and Environment, said she knows of no county in southwestern Ohio that prohibits smoking in public places. But she said countywide bans have been tried in other parts of the state.

        The idea is under consideration by a committee repre senting Hamilton's health department, city council, chamber of commerce and restaurants. The panel will submit its findings to the city manager, probably in February, Dr. Karwisch said.

        Councilman Richard Holzberger, a committee member, is reviewing no-smoking laws adopted by other communities. Hamilton has no such law, but it does require separate smoking sections in restaurants.

        “I don't want restaurants to lose business,” he said, “but I can empathize with people concerned about secondhand smoke ...

        “We can pick the best way to support this,” Mr. Holzberger said. “I think council is amenable to it. I will not push for emergency legislation. I want three readings on an ordinance so that we can properly discuss the issue.”

        Dr. Karwisch said he expects much debate.

        “Our first committee meeting brought out quite a variety of opinions. We'll look at this issue very closely. We realize it can be quite contentious.”

        Some Butler County restaurants, mostly smaller and fast-food, already prohibit smoking. But the larger, full-service restaurants have been reluctant to follow, Dr. Karwisch said, because of anticipated negative reactions from smokers.

        Last month, the Butler County Tobacco Coalition, based in Middletown, said that 21 percent of the county's restaurants — a total of about 90 — now offer smoke-free dining. Last year, only 57 smoke-free restaurants operated, it said.

        Gina's eliminated smoking when it relocated from High Street to 241 N. Third St. The decision has met with favorable comments, Ms. Myers said, and her business is up.

        Along restaurant row on Union Township's Tylersville Road, customers on both sides of the issue felt that smoking bans are inevitable.

        “People don't want to breathe all that smoke anymore,” said Ruth Hudson, 48, a former smoker from Centerville. “They know all about the health risks.”

        Nonetheless, Dr. Karwisch said, Hamilton restaurant owners worry that if the city prohibits smoking, customers will simply drive to restaurants outside the city.

        “If we could get other Butler County communities to agree on a similar position and go forward with it, we'd eliminate those concerns,” he said. Middletown will also consider a nonsmoking ordinance, Ms. Diver said.

        She said studies in tourist areas with nonsmoking laws show restaurant revenues have not declined.

        “But you can't go countywide with something like this (plan) without talking to all the municipalities,” she said. “We may try to piggyback an ordinance with Hamilton's.”


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