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Court Says, "Butt Out!"

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that local health boards lack the authority to ban smoking in public places, such as bars and restaurants. It's a case which was closely watched in Belpre, where the health board wants to enact a similar ban.

One of the city's busiest restaurants, the Belrock Country Diner, allows smoking in 40-percent of its dining area. But even reformed smokers believe "lighting up" is a matter of personal choice.

"I think it's up to the individual and the owners," says former smoker Sarah Johnson. "If they got a place for them to smoke, that's their business."

Tom Burk, who still smokes, knows how he would react to a smoking ban.

"I'd go someplace else," Burk says. "I wouldn't complain about it, I'd just go somewhere else."

Restaurant owner Steve Null, A former city councilman, gave up smoking 28 years ago. But he believes the public, not the government, should have the say on smokers' rights.

"People enjoy smoking and want to come into public places and smoke," Null says. "If they're going to ban it, they need to do it in a way that's acceptable to the community."

Belpre Mayor Bill McAfee is the non-voting chairman of the health board. He says while the court's ruling prohibits health boards from enacting smoking bans, municipal governments such as city councils can still do so.

"When you make any rules or regulations," Null says, "One thing you have to look at is, can it be enforced? For this reason, I doubt the city council will do it.

The city health board is expected to discuss the issue next month. Nearby Meigs County has a smoking ban similar to the one the State Supreme Court struck down.

The high court case is from a challenge to a total smoking ban enacted last year in Toledo.


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