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Ohio truckers fall under new smoking ban

Richard Durst says this is all a big misunderstanding. He's the CEO of Artic Express Trucking in Hilliard, and chairman of the Ohio Trucking Association. He says Ohio's new smoking ban was never meant to apply to truck drivers.

I voted for Issue 5, but I was thinking about what people would consider a traditional workplace; office buildings, shops and terminals Durst says. I think that's a great thing. But I didn't see any language that drew my attention to the fact that a workplace would extend to the cab of a truck.

Starting this Thursday, truckers who are driving a company-owned truck will no longer be allowed to smoke.

It's easy to imagine how most truckers feeling about the new smoking ban. It's a busy day at the Pilot truck stop on Wilson Road on Columbus' west side. Trucks are pulling in and out as drivers walk inside to take a quick shower or buy a cup of coffee. Quinton Williams has been driving a truck for 15 years. Today he's hauling hazardous materials from Alabama to Buffalo.

It sounds like discrimination to me, Williams says. It's like anything else that's going on: they want to discriminate against the people that are out here trying to make a living every day, and it's not right. I smoke a carton-and-a-half a week while on the road. It's something to do while you're bored. It keeps you awake and helps you get on down the road a little bit.

Even non-smoking drivers call the ban an infringement of their rights. Daniel Jones is headed to Philadelphia with a load of chickens he picked up in Montana. He says he does not smoke, but he should be allowed to if his company permits it.

My boss owns my truck, and Ohio doesn't own my boss, Jones says. I can undersatnd if you say I can't smoke in this building right here. I can live with that; it's a public place, and they should have the right to say that. But in that truck, I have the right to do what I want to do.

The group who petitioned to get the smoking ban on the ballot is showing signs of flexibility. Tracy Sabetta was campaign co-chair for the Smoke Free Ohio.

Issue 5 is a complaint-driven law, Sabetta says. So if there isn't anyone complaining about that one trucker smoking in the cab of the truck, there is likely not going to be a citation issued. It's going to be up to the employer at that point to decide how they want to see the law enforced with their particular business.

This is one of the many points on which Sabetta and Durst disagree. Durst says a trucking company would be crazy to tell its drivers to break the law, no matter how slim the chance of getting caught. He says enforced or not, the mere presence of a smoking ban on truckers would be devastating to the Ohio trucking industry.

If now told that he cannot smoke in the cab of his truck, a driver could just as easily go to work for a trucking company in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia or Kentucky where companies that don't have to abide by these rules.

Durst says the Ohio Trucking Association is already making efforts to have commercial trucks removed from the smoking ban. Durst says he's working with legislators to have the cab of a truck removed from the definition of a public work place. But Tracy Sabetta warns against amending a law that has not even had a chance to go into effect.

The Ohio Department of Health is now in the process of developing rules, Sabetta says. They may have the opportunity to change the definition of a vehicle in that rule-making process. I think there are probably many other ways that we can approach this rather than opening up a law that 58 percent of Ohio voters just passed before it even has a chance to go into effect.

The Ohio Department of Health will enforce the ban. Penalties will range from a written warning to fines up to $2,500.