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Columbus Bar Faces Escalating Fines over Smoking Charges

The Columbus health Department will determine whether a local bar has violated the state's no-smoking law. If so, it would not be the first time.

The bar known as Zeno's Victorian Village has been cited several times for smoking violations since the state's no-smoking rule went into effect. Zeno's owner Dick Allen says the smoking ban's terminology is too vague.

"We follow all the directives, we have the signs up, we tell all the patrons. If they refuse to listen to me there's no direction for what I should do then. Obviously I don't want to risk a lawsuit physically confronting somebody,' Allen said.

Bartender Holly Watts testified she always asks smokers to extinguish their cigarettes and that she customarily confiscates paper cups being used for ash trays.

The attorney representing Zeno's, Matt Thompson, tried to show that inspectors from the health department did not interview bar patrons or employees.

"The inspectors concluded that since an individual was smoking in the establishment that Zeno's had permitted or egged on that smoking," Thompson said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Zeno's has asked individuals not to smoke. When the inspectors walk in and walk out without asking any questions they don't know whether the employees have stopped the smoking and been unsuccessful."

But Assistant City Attorney Josh Cox disagrees. He says the staff at Zeno's is required to uphold the state's smoking ban. Under the law, Cox said, 'a wink and a nod is not sufficient.'

"He's not allowed to permit people to smoke in his establishment and he has and he's in violation," Cox said.

A ruling could be made within the week. If Zeno's is found to have permitted smoking, civil fines of several thousand dollars could be levied.