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Smoking ban goes into effect

The city of Columbus smoking ban went into effect at the strike of 12 last night. Bar and restaurant owners don't yet know how the ban will effect their businesses, but they have plenty of concerns.

Ann and Mike's Main Street Tavern is a small neighborhood bar. It's not flashy. People come for bottled beer, conversation and until last night a few smokes at the bar.

Bar owner Roseanne Leslie says that of her 300 regular customers, only 11 are non-smokers. She's worried that her customers who smoke, may just stop coming.

Leslie is enforcing the smoking ban. She's put away the ash trays and posted signs explaining the ordinance at both entrances to the bar. But she's not happy about it.

Under the rules of the ordinance, the business owner, not the smoker faces fines of up to $150 for violations of the ban. Across town at Byrn's Pub near Grandview, owner Patrick Byrn figures his business could be in for a major hit. He says there are 8 bars within a mile and a half of his pub that don't have to obey the smoking ban because they're outside the Columbus city limits.

Byrn is going to put heaters on the patio in front of his bar, so the smokers won't get too cold when they run outside for a smoke. But he says it's still going to be a major adjustment.

These bar owners are overstating the possible hardship, so says Bradley Frick a Columbus attorney and co-chair of Smoke Free Columbus. He says in other cities with smoking bans most establishments do better because they attract more non-smokers. He says most smokers won't stop going out, they'll just have to step outside to smoke. Frick also isn't concerned about enforcement.

The enforcement system in Columbus will rely heavily on voluntary reporting. Patrons can complain about smoking violations by calling a health department hotline. There are 2 inspectors assigned to investigate complaints. Business owners will get a warning letter after the first violation. The second complaint will prompt a visit from an inspector and if someone is caught smoking the business owner or manager will be fined.

Attorney Phil Harmon represents the Columbus Bar Owners Political Action Committee, which strenuously opposes the ban. He's told his clients they're obliged to follow the law but he says compliance could be spotty.

Bar owners say they aren't throwing out their ash trays just yet. They're gathering signatures for a petition that would put the smoking issue back on the ballot this coming May. The initiative would create an exception in the ordinance allowing smoking in bars. Bar owners plan to turn in more than 5,000 petition signatures later this week.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.