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OLR Research Report


April 19, 2010

 

2010-R-0175

OHIO'S FIREWORKS LAWS

By: Veronica Rose, Chief Analyst

You asked for information on Ohio's fireworks laws.

SUMMARY

Ohio law allows people age 18 or older to buy consumer fireworks such as firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, and fountains but only if they (1) buy them from a licensed manufacturer or wholesaler and (2) sign an affidavit agreeing to transport them out of state within 48 hours of purchase if they reside in the state. The deadline for nonresidents is unclear.

The law prohibits the sale and purchase of display and exhibitor fireworks, except by and to licensees. And only licensed professionals may legally discharge or explode them in the state. Out-of-state purchasers must transport them out of state, but the deadline for doing so is unclear.

The law allows unrestricted sale and use of novelty fireworks such as sparklers, snaps, low snakes, and smoke bombs, except where banned by local communities. These are exempt from the definition of fireworks and are not regulated.

Most first-time violations of fireworks laws are 1st degree misdemeanors punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. Violations include falsifying the purchase affidavit, failing to transport fireworks out of state within the deadline required by law, and discharging fireworks illegally. In addition to criminal prosecution, licensees are subject to administrative enforcement action for violations.

We were unable to get any data on fireworks injuries or deaths in Ohio. According to the Fire Marshal's Office, which has jurisdiction over fireworks, these statistics are not being compiled. We are still trying to get revenue data and will provide that information in a follow-up report.

With regard to enforcement issues, the office indicated that it seizes about 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks per year, but it does not have the staff or resources to monitor all potential violations.

FIREWORKS REGULATION

Federal law

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have general jurisdiction over the types of fireworks that may be legally sold in the United States. The federal law is the minimum standard; states may enact more stringent laws.

Ohio Law and Fireworks Classification

Consumer Fireworks. Ohio law limits the purchase and use of consumer fireworks. Consumer fireworks (also called 1.4G fireworks) include shells and mortars; multiple tube devices; roman candles; rockets; sparklers; firecrackers with up to 50 milligrams of powder; and novelty items such as snakes, airplanes, ground spinners, helicopters, fountains, and party poppers.

Only a licensed manufacturer or wholesaler may sell these items. People under age 18 may not buy them. People age 18 or older may buy them but they cannot discharge them in the state and must sign an affidavit at purchase agreeing to take them out of state. In-state residents must take them out of state within 48 hours of purchase (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.45 & 3743.63(D)). The deadline for out-of-state residents is unclear. One statute sets the deadline at 48 hours (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.44), another, at 72 hours (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.63(B)). (According to the State Fire Marshal's Office, this is a drafting error and the 48-hour deadline applies to both residents and nonresidents.)

Display or Exhibitor Fireworks. Under Ohio law, it is illegal for an unlicensed person to manufacture, possess, use, or store display or exhibitor fireworks (also know as 1.3G fireworks), which include aerial shells fired from mortars. These fireworks may be sold only by licensed manufacturers and wholesalers and only to licensees (manufacturers, wholesalers, exhibitors, and nonresidents licensed to sell fireworks at retail). They may be discharged, ignited, or exploded in the state only by licensed exhibitors in accordance with Ohio laws (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.44). Among other things, the exhibitor must have a permit, signed by both the local fire chief and law enforcement official, certifying that the display will be conducted in a safe manner.

An out-of-state licensee who purchases display or exhibitor fireworks must transport them out of state within the deadlines in law discussed above (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.44).

Novelty Fireworks. Trick and novelty fireworks (also know as exempted 1.4G fireworks), which include sparklers, snaps, glow snakes, and smoke bombs, may be sold and discharged anywhere in the state, unless prohibited by local communities. They are exempt from regulation (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.80).

Licensing and Permit Requirement

Licensing. Ohio law requires anyone in the business of manufacturing or selling fireworks at wholesale, or exhibiting fireworks to be licensed. The annual licensing fees are as follows: (1) manufacturer or wholesaler, $2,750 plus $100 for each storage location (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.02 and 3743.15) and (2) fireworks display/exhibit, $50 (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.50). Licensees must have general liability insurance of at least $1 million for each occurrence of bodily injury and wrongful death liability at the fireworks plant or business location, as applicable.

A moratorium on the issuance of fireworks manufacturers and wholesalers licenses is in effect until December 15, 2011 (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.75).

Permit. The law requires any out-of-state resident shipping consumer or display/exhibitor fireworks into Ohio to obtain a shipping permit from the state fire marshal. It bars shippers from sending fireworks to nonlicensees (Ohio Rev. Code 3743.66 & 3743.40)

Violations

Most first-time violations of Ohio's fireworks laws are 1st degree misdemeanors. It is a 1st degree misdemeanor for unlicensed individuals to discharge fireworks in the state, falsify an application when purchasing fireworks, or possess them for more than 48 hours without taking them out of state. First-time offenders are subject to a $1,000 fine, up to six months imprisonment, or both.

DEATH, INJURIES, AND REVENUE DATA

Deaths and Injuries

According to the State Fire Marshal's Office, which is responsible for regulating fireworks in Ohio, many fireworks injuries are minor and not reported. The entities most likely to deal with incidents resulting in deaths or major injuries are hospitals and fire and police departments. But while fire officials and law enforcement authorities are required to report fireworks incidents to the State Fire Marshal's Office (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3743.541), hospitals are not required to do so, and there is no mechanism to track and compile the data statewide. Consequently, the state has no official compilation of firearm injuries and deaths.

The reporting and record keeping issue is a nationwide problem. CPSC publishes an annual report of fireworks deaths and injuries. Its source of information for deaths is newspaper articles, consumer complaints, referrals by lawyers, medical examiners, and other government agencies. Its source for injures is emergency department records at hospitals with emergency departments. CPSC estimates that nationwide about 7,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for non-occupational fireworks-related injuries in 2008. Seven fireworks-related deaths were reported in the same period. More than half of the injuries were burns. The injuries most often involved the hands, fingers, eyes, and legs (CPSC 2008 Annual Fireworks Report).

Revenue

We were unable to get any revenue data. We have contacted the Ohio Tax Department and will provide any data we receive in a follow-up report.

ENFORCEMENT

As part of its enforcement activities, the State Fire Marshal's Office conducts licensing and site, plant, and inventory inspections; reviews and works with exhibitors to ensure fireworks safety; and operates a fireworks incident team to respond to the scene of fireworks accidents.

According to an official from the office, the office seizes about 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks each year. These seizures are usually triggered by complaints from the public (typically about noise) or licensees (typically about unlicensed vendors). The official indicated that the office does not have the staff or resources to initiate enforcement on all aspects of the laws. For example, it would be almost impossible to (1) ensure that every consumer who buys fireworks removes them from the state as required by law, (2) prevent people from bringing prohibited fireworks into the state, or (3) prevent the making of illegal fireworks (a practice called bootlegging). Consequently, much of the enforcement is incident- or complaint-driven. When an incident occurs or someone complains, the office responds.

As at the state level, enforcement at the local level is uneven. Much depends on the community's resources and frequency of complaints. According to the official, enforcing fireworks laws does not appear to be a top law enforcement priority.

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