YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The overwhelming majority of states permit the discharge of consumer-grade fireworks in some capacity. Ohio, however, isn't one of them and, instead, ranks only behind the state of Massachusetts in terms of the strict fireworks regulations. A bill that recently passed the Ohio Senate would undo one of the most ignored loopholes in state law by allowing consumers to purchase and, finally, legally use fireworks during major holiday periods.
Ohio's current fireworks regulations allow consumers to purchase and possess consumer-grade fireworks but requires consumers to transport them out of state within 48 hours. The so-called "liar's law" would be repealed and replaced with a provision allowing consumers to light the fireworks during major holiday periods, including New Year's Day; Memorial Day weekend; July 3rd, 4th and 5th; Juneteenth; Cinco de Mayo; and Chinese New Year.
Additionally, under Senate Bill 113, fireworks could be discharged on the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays leading up to and following Labor Day weekend, New Year's Eve and Diwali.
Danial Peart, the director of government affairs for Youngstown-based national fireworks retailer Phantom Fireworks, said the proposal has languished on lawmakers' desks since 2014 but has recently picked up momentum this legislative session.
"One of the rationalizations that keeps laws on the books for decades and decades is, 'that's the way it's always been,'" Peart said. "In Ohio, we do not permit the use of any level of consumer fireworks. The big aerial fireworks? No. Firecrackers? No. Even the ground-based fountains? No. Ohio does not permit the use."
The loophole that allows retailers to sell fireworks while conversely not allowing consumers to discharge them in the state has never made much sense, Peart said. Despite the obvious contradiction in state law, Phantom Fireworks has expanded nationwide, boasting stores and showrooms in 15 states and temporary retail venues in 17 states. Based in Youngstown, the company also supplies fireworks to other national chains spanning across 47 states. The company employs more than 400 employees in Ohio.
Peart said the bill strikes a balance and compromise between public safety, animal and veterans advocacy interests as well as the industry's interests. Another major component of the legislation is to increase firework-related safety.
"It is a list of roughly 20 days [when fireworks would be permitted]," Peart said. "It is still less than 10 percent of the total year where fireworks would be permitted. It also permits local control, where cities and towns would be able to restrict fireworks. Beyond that, it really focuses on safety. When something is illegal, I, as a fireworks expert, cannot educate you on how to use them safely. I can't tell you how to do something illegal."
As part of the legislation, fireworks retailers and wholesalers would be required to have safety glasses and gloves for free or a nominal charge. Additionally, retailers would also be required to provide safety-related information to consumers at the point of purchase.
The bill was met with public opposition from the Ohio Insurance Institute, the Ohio Fireworks Safety Coalition, an animal advocacy organization as well as the Ohio affiliate of Prevent Blindness. Other opponents of the bill cited concerns about those living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as pet owners. Animal rescue groups and shelters frequently see an influx in lost animals following the July Fourth holidays.
By permitting fireworks only during certain holiday periods, Peart said residents will be able to prepare for and mitigate those issues.
"That was the motivating factor behind defining the days where fireworks were legal. You can prepare for it. You know," Peart said.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the number of injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks imported into the country has declined substantially since the late 1990s and early 2000s despite the total weight of fireworks being imported more than doubling. In 2000, there were 7.5 firework-related injuries per 100,000 pounds imported, amounting to 11,000 estimated injuries on 146 million pounds of imported fireworks.
In 2019, which is the most recent data available, there were an estimated 10,000 injuries on 255 million pounds of fireworks imported, amounting to just 3.9 injuries per 100,000 pounds of imported fireworks. Over the past two decades, the number of estimated fireworks injuries has largely remained consistent despite more fireworks being imported.
Ohio's western neighbor, the state of Indiana, passed a change in state law in 2006 that is similar to what Ohio lawmakers are considering. According to the Indiana State Department of Health's Division of Trauma and Injury Prevention, the number of firework-related injuries dropped precipitously after the law was changed in 2006, granting fireworks consumers the ability to discharge them legally and fireworks retailers the opportunity to provide safety information. In 2012, there were just 83 firework-related injuries. The number of firework-related injuries did increase to 238 in 2017 -- the last year data was available -- but it still ranked behind the number of injuries in years that pre-dated the change in state law.
"It's the educational component that has a profound impact on fireworks-related injuries and more specifically the decrease of fireworks-related injuries," Peart said. "We can't tell people how to use something that is illegal."