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Monday, February 19, 2007

Ohio Smoking Law Enforcement: $800,000 To Start

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- State health officials want $800,000 to begin enforcing Ohio's new indoor smoking ban when rules covering 280,000 locations go into effect in a few months. The money is supposed to come from the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation, a state-controlled organization that holds about $300 million after successful litigation against cigarette manufacturers earlier this decade. The damage award money is invested and earned about $20 million last fiscal year.

The Ohio Health Department disclosed in a budget document it could not put teeth behind the smoking ban without Controlling Board approval to spend tobacco-settlement money. The request is on the agenda for the Feb. 26 Controlling Board meeting in Columbus:

"Health requests Controlling Board approval to establish appropriation authority in the amount of $800,000.00 in Fund 5ED, line item 440-651, Smoke Free Indoor Air to implement, manage, and enforce the Smoke Free Indoor Air Law."

Other state documents show some of the tobacco-settlement proceeds will be used to start a call center, build a Website and database to track complaints and violations, and hire temporary workers to process the information generated. People also will be needed to write complaint letters, and other contracts will be required to print and mail them to suspected violators.

Health officials also say they plan to distribute 280,000 "compliance packets" that containing the rules, a copy of the state law banning indoor smoking, and "no smoking" literature that probably will be warnings about the harm tobacco can cause to lungs, hearts and pregnant women . They also want to print signs and give funds to local health departments that have to police businesses, bars, nightclubs and anywhere else covered by the ban. Officials said they think they'll get more money from fines once enforcement begins, but noted in a document attached to the funding request "It is not possible to estimate the revenue from fines at this point."

In all, they expect to spend $125,000 on temps, $275,000 for preparing and mailing the compliance packets, and $400,000 to subsidize the local health departments. They also said they have no other source of money to get the ban up and running.

"If not funded, enforcement of the law could not take place," the Ohio Department of Health said in its request for the money. Information about the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation is HERE.

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