COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Thousands of Ohio bars, restaurants and other workplaces that have violated the state's new smoking ban will not face retroactive penalties once rules for enforcing the ban take effect next month, state health officials said Monday.
Compliance with the law, which took effect Dec. 7, has been spotty in some areas of Ohio while the state Health Department has worked to establish fines - up to $2,500 for multiple violators - and to clarify businesses that are exempt. About 17,000 alleged violations have been reported statewide.
The rules cleared a 10-member panel of lawmakers Monday without objection, meaning that penalties can be enforced the first week of May.
Business owners and smokers who flouted the law during the past five months will not be fined, said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Health.
"Everything starts with a clean slate," he said.
The law, approved by 58 percent of voters last November, aims to protect nonsmokers and employees from secondhand smoke. It prohibits smoking in most public places, including restaurants, bars and offices. Exceptions include tobacco shops, certain private clubs, designated hotel rooms and enclosed areas of nursing homes.
About 82 percent of bars, restaurants and other workplaces in southwest Ohio's Hamilton County are following the law, according to reports filed by sanitarians who inspect the facilities.
But 102 workplaces meet none of the law's three requirements - a ban on indoor smoking, removal of ashtrays and the posting of no-smoking signs, said Paula Smith, spokeswoman with the Hamilton County Health District, which has jurisdiction over county workplaces outside the city of Cincinnati.
Under proposed rules for enforcing the ban, smokers who disregard the law will be given a warning just once. After that, it's a $100 fine.