Enforcement of Ohio's Smoke Free Workplace Law Through the Lens of Public Health Practice

Public health agencies in Ohio lose money enforcing the state’s smoke-free law.

In 2007, Ohio implemented the Smoke Free Workplace Law (SFWL), which limits tobacco use in 280,000 places of employment and public places in Ohio (including bars, restaurants, clubs and lodges, group homes, and assisted living facilities). State and local public health agencies enforce the law and levy fines for violators that range from a warning letter to $100, $500, $1,000, or more, depending on the violation. Some of that money is reimbursed to the local agency to cover costs. 

Researchers conducted focus groups, phone interviews, and an online opinion survey of public health staff (both administrative and direct enforcement workers) to better understand the variations in enforcement of the SFWL, including practice patterns and fiscal pressures.

Key Findings:

  • Overall, 74 percent of respondents felt the benefits of enforcement outweighed the cost; more so for those working in urban (80%) than rural (61%) agencies.
  • Some 77 percent of agencies lost money on enforcement and education, while 5 percent made money, and 18 percent broke even.

In 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the smoke-free law, clearing the way for the state to pursue a backlog of uncollected fines, which in 2011 totaled $1.8 million statewide.