The county health department has contracted with the state since Ohio’s Smoke-Free Workplace Act was approved by voters and went into effect in early 2008. The law outlaws smoking in all places of employment and immediately adjacent to the entrances to those workplaces. There are no exempted businesses in Meigs County.
Since Ohio’s Smoke-Free Workplace Act went into effect, the county health department, through its registered sanitarian, has investigated complaints about smoking called into the state’s toll-free reporting number.
The enforcement of the law is complaint-driven: Public calls to a posted toll-free telephone number are turned over to the contract agency, in the local case, the health department, which then visits the alleged workplace to investigate.
If evidence is present that smoking is being permitted, the investigative agency can either issue a warning or a fine. Fines increase with the number of violations reported and confirmed at that place of business. If there is no evidence that smoking is being permitted, the complaint is then dismissed.
Nearly half of Ohio’s counties have discontinued their contacts with the state health department, placing the task of investigating individual complaints upon the state health department, which reportedly has only two investigators on staff.
37 of Ohio’s 88 counties to disband its local investigative units this year. Those counties discontinuing their investigative units, including Meigs, have cited the high cost of the investigation process in relationship to the contract amount, the time involved, and the slow turnaround in payments to county departments and failure of those fined to remit their fines to the state.
No significant income has been realized by the local health department from the contract, according to a spokesperson. The Ohio Beverage Journal reported in its September issue that in Richland County, which has also discontinued its investigation contract with the state health department, $7,346 was collected in fines from 306 cases. The county spent over $43,000 on its investigation unit.
The aim of the law when passed was to create smoke-free job environments for those who work in places where smoking was once still common, such as bars and restaurants.
In Meigs County, only three establishments, all bars, have been fined for alleged repeated violations. Collection of the fines goes through the state health department and the Ohio Attorney General.