Ohio voters passed the SmokeFreeOhio late last year. Ten months after the voters spoke, the first fines were issued against offending businesses. The penalty for businesses that have ignored the will of voters for almost a year? A measly US$100. There are bars that make more than that on the sale of one bottle of liquor or wine.
Such weak enforcement is worse than no enforcement at all. The message this sends to the market is that the state isn’t really that serious about maintaining smoke-free public areas. The end result is a playing field that’s not level, exactly what a state-wide public smoking ban was supposed to prevent.
Ohio should study Hong Kong on how to enforce a public smoking ban. Hong Kong’s Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance provides for much stiffer penalties for violators of the smoking ban. Individuals are liable for up to HK$5000 (~US$640) per violation on summary conviction. They don’t waste time sending letters saying “please don’t violate the smoking ban.” If you violate the ban, you fork over the money. The much higher fine sends a clearer message to the market about the commitment of the government to enforcement of the law and commitment to protection of public health.