Ohio’s anti-smoking law probably won’t be enforced on truckers

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A new statewide law prohibiting workplace smoking in Ohio applies to bars, restaurants, truck stops and possibly even the cabs of owner-operator big rigs, but Ohio officials say the law probably won’t be enforced against on-the-job truckers. The Ohio Trucking Association is hoping for less restrictive legislation.

According to the state’s unofficial tally, 58 percent of Ohio voters approved State Issue Five on Nov. 7; that constitutional amendment, backed by the American Cancer Society and other health groups, prohibits almost all workplace smoking and bars it in most public places as well. Sixty-eight percent of voters defeated State Issue Four, a rival, less restrictive measure backed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco; it would have allowed smoking in 90 percent of businesses and allowed exceptions such as bowling alleys.

The trucking community didn’t realize that Issue Five smoking restrictions would apply to company-owned vehicles and possibly even to owner-operator vehicles, said Larry Davis, president of the Ohio Trucking Association. SmokeFree Ohio, the pro-Issue Five campaign, had advertised the measure as allowing smoking outdoors and in vehicles. If the owner-operator is registered as a business and lists himself as an employee, then he possibly could be barred from smoking in his own trucks, Davis said.

“Owners of trucking companies are upset,” Davis said. “We have a hard enough time finding qualified drivers.” One Ohio fleet estimated that 50 percent of its truckers smoke, another that 75 percent of its truckers do, Davis said. Constitutional amendments such as Issue Five can be clarified by legislation, though such clarifications are open to court challenges; several legislators are willing to take on the issue in the spring, Davis said.

The new law states that any workplace smoking must be outside where smoke cannot get into the workplace through an opening such as a door or window. Even family-owned businesses that employ only family members must confine employee smoking to a separate building where the public is not permitted. Hotels and motels, however, can designate up to 20 percent of their rooms for smokers.

Employers must remove all ashtrays and prominently post “No smoking” signs with a phone number where violations can be reported. The signs probably would have to be on commercial trucks as well, said Jay Carey, public affairs director for the Ohio Department of Health. The ban is effective today, Dec. 7, and the public is expected to comply immediately, even though the Health Department has until June 7 to write the enforcement rules, Carey said.

“It is a complaint-driven system,” Carey said. “We would do an investigation if there is a violation.” The first violation is punishable by a written warning, the second by a civil fine of $100 to $2,500. The business proprietor, not the employee, will be held legally responsible for the violation. That violators can be reported anonymously is another of Davis’ complaints about the law.

Enforcement against on-the-job truckers is expected to be lax, but industry officials say the law should be changed. “If it’s not something that can be enforced, then it shouldn’t be enacted,” Davis told the Columbus Dispatch. “When you’re talking about a one-on-one situation, there ought to be an exemption to that.”

Mike Profitt, a truck driver who works for a Cincinnati company, told the Dispatch he was shocked when he heard about the new law at a truck stop north of Columbus. Profitt said he drives about 3,000 miles a week and figured he smokes during 2,500 of them. “I understand (the ban) for hospitals and restaurants and businesses,” Profitt told the Dispatch. “But when it comes down to what a guy does out there on the road every day, are they going to take our CB radios away from us next? ”

But Ohio officials and cosponsors of the anti-smoking measure said the ban as it applies to truck drivers won’t be enforced. “We’re not going to have inspectors climbing into cabs to check on the drivers,” Tracy Sabetta, co-chairwoman of the SmokeFree Ohio campaign, told the Dispatch. “The intent was never to target truck drivers.”

SmokeFree Ohio says Ohio is the 15th state to pass a strong smoke-free law that includes bars and restaurants. States with similar bans are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Montana, Utah, Vermont and Washington.