On Thursday, local anti-smoking activists will kick off a campaign urging Cleveland to enact legislation banning smoking in all public places - including bars and restaurants. But as ideastream's Renita Jablonski reports, lawmakers say they're going to take their time to make sure such a ban is right for the city.
For one day last week the conference room at the American Cancer Society building in Cleveland became a television studio. Lights, a camera complete with teleprompter, and a dark background were set up to tape a commercial that will premiere on northeast Ohio televisions tomorrow.
Ambient sound from commercial taping: "And Action! Being exposed to second hand smoke puts my family's future and me at risk..."
Joe Mazzola was anxious as he watched community members read their lines in front of the camera. Mazzola is with Tobacco Free Ohio in the regional office of the American Lung Association, and one of the coordinators of the Cleveland Clean Indoor Air Campaign. After a failed attempt to get a smoking ban started in his hometown of Garfield Heights, he's turning his efforts to Cleveland.
Joe Mazzola: It's important that we take the steps to protect people from second-hand smoke and it's important that we do this now because we know the science behind second-hand smoke. 15, 20 years ago we didn't understand how dangerous second-hand smoke was to people who are exposed to it, especially on a regular basis.
A report released this week by the American Cancer Society shows Ohio has the fourth highest smoking rate in the nation. The report also shows that lung cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths in Ohio. But over at Bucco's, a bar on Cleveland's east side, those statistics don't seem to be reason enough to put out smoking in every public establishment in the city. Any mention of a smoking ban sparks a lot of conversation. Patrons, both smokers and non-smokers alike, stopped their dart games and put down their pool sticks to chime in.
Patrons in Bucco's: "Hey personally, I don't smoke so I'm all for it but within that, I think people have the right to smoke."
"Illegal smoking is ridiculous!"
"People who don't smoke can go to non-smoking bars. It should be a matter not for the legislature to waste their time on. There are more important things to worry about."
The owner of Bucco's however, wasn't so ready to express his opinion. He refused to comment. Arnie Elzey says he knows why.
Arnie Elzey: I think they're scared, they're nervous and I know we were here too and still are.
Elzey is president of the North West Ohio Licensed Beverage Association. He's also the owner of Arnie's Grill in Toledo where he says he's seen at least a 15% drop in business since Toledo passed its Clean Indoor Air Ordinance a few months ago. Elzey and a group of supporters are trying to get the ban overturned in U.S. District Court. As they wait for a federal judge's decision, Elzey is also collecting signatures to try to put the issue before voters. He says the only one way he'd ever support a ban would be if it was statewide so patrons wouldn't be able to take their business elsewhere.
Arnie Elzey: It's so much easier for bar patrons to just go down the street, go across to the next city to enjoy a cocktail or a sandwich and then smoke something that's still legal to do.
Pat Britt is head of Cleveland City Council's Health Committee. She says she's already received a number of flyers and postcards from the groups Joe Mazzola's working with to promote the idea of a smoking ban here. But Britt says as a council member, it's her job to find out what her constituents want.
Pat Britt: We are forming an advisory committee that's comprised of restaraunteurs, it's comprised of bar owners, youth, just about every facet of business that you can think of, the various unions, because that decision needs to be made by the people of the city of Cleveland.
Five states and more than 260 cities nationwide have adopted smoking bans in all public places. But Britt says she's not going to endorse something just because everyone else seems to be doing it.
Pat Britt: It's trendy in that it's happening and it appears to be happening more often, not that people's health is a trend or not, but I do think it is the thing to be talking about across the country now and so it's landed in Cleveland and we have an obligation to review the issue.
Council is not putting a deadline on the committee and Britt doesn't expect any major recommendations until sometime late next year.
Ambient sound from commercial taping: "And action! I see the impact of second-hand smoke every day. It's a dangerous carcinogen."
Joe Mazzola says that's not going to stop him from getting the word out for a lobbying effort he calls a matter of life and death.
Joe Mazzola: We are just going to keep going and educating and getting the community involved.
Mazzola says about 1,400 individuals and businesses have already endorsed the campaign and he plans to sign up many more tomorrow as the campaign kick-off coincides with the Great American Smokeout. In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.