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Ohio's Public Places Go Smoke Free

In compliance with the new law, someone had scotch taped a no smoking sign to the receptionist's desk at the state health department on North High Street. The sign, as required, includes the toll-free telephone number for callers to report violations.

Somewhere in the building a half-dozen staffers answered hundreds of calls to the hotline Thursday. Members of the media weren't allowed to listen in, but according to the department, which supplied tape of several calls, most people had questions, not complaints.

"You'd like to know how far away from the building entrance they need to be to smoke under this law? That distance has not been determined, it's not been stated in the law and it will be most likely included in the rules of those regulations."

By early afternoon Dr. Nick Baird, the state health director, said the department had already handled hundreds of inquiries.

"We've had a lot of calls this morning, around a thousand for a three-hour period that we monitored," Baird said. "A small percentage were complaints, the others were looking for information relative to the smoking ban."

The health department has six months to draw up enforcement regulations. In the meantime, Baird says, the department won't actively investigate reported violations. But it will try to educate business owners who don't understand the new law.

"We will do what we can to provide educational materials and follow up on complaints that we get until which time we have promulgated rules until such time that we have enforcement authority."

A lot of restaurant and bar owners have worried that the smoking ban would cut into their business. Champps Restaurant near Ohio State University allowed smoking until just a few days ago. But on the first day of the statewide ban, manager Tim Klunk said business was booming.

"We had a tremendously busy day today," Klunk said. "I do know that it's nice to have the playing field leveled and that everybody knows that it's going to be non-smoking now."

He may not have empirical evidence about the effects of the ban, but Klunk says that employees and customers seem to like the change.

"Particularly for the bartenders behind the bar that don't have to breathe it in, they're pretty tickled about it. And we had some loyal lunch people and dinner people who would tolerate the cigarettes and it didn't seem to bother them but even now they say it's pretty nice to breathe the normal air."