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Despite warnings, 1 in 4 Ohioans smoke

Cincinnati -- Despite a half century of government warnings, nearly one in four Ohioans still smoke.

In fact, 23.3 percent of Ohio residents still smoked in 2012, a rate that was just 5.4 percent lower than it was in 1984, the first year Ohio tracked smoking numbers. During the same time, the nationwide rate dropped more than 12 percent.

That's according to National Health Interview Surveys, reported by Gannett newspapers in Ohio.

Anti-smoking advocates in Ohio say the state's ranking remains among the lowest in the nation because adequate funds aren't invested in programs to help people quit smoking and prevent children from starting.

-- Associated Press

54,000 apply online for Medicaid

Columbus -- Ohio officials say they've received more than 54,000 applications from people seeking Medicaid health coverage through a new state website.

Of those submitted, Ohio Medicaid says more than 20,000 applications had been approved as of Jan. 22. Almost 4,000 applications were denied.

The online enrollment option became available in December to eligible low-income families, along with individuals who fell under an expansion of the federal-state program for the poor and disabled. County caseworkers are helping to finalize most of the initial online applications.

It wasn't immediately known how many applications came from those who are newly eligible under the Medicaid extension. The state expects to have those figures in mid-February.

Gov. John Kasich's administration moved forward with expanding Medicaid last fall. Coverage took effect Jan. 1.

-- Associated Press

700 take early

retirement at Clinic

Cleveland -- The Cleveland Clinic says more than 700 workers will take early retirement as the region's largest employer tries to cut costs.

WKYC-TV3 reports that the Northeast Ohio hospital system is moving forward with a multi-year plan to cut about $330 million from its budget.

Clinic officials said in a statement they plan to "backfill" nearly half of the jobs. They also said several hundred open positions would be closed.

The Cleveland Clinic system has about 42,000 employees in the region.

-- Associated Press

Three from Ohio get ready for Sochi

Cincinnati -- Three native Ohioans will be competing for the United States in the upcoming Olympics in Russia. The three women all come from hometowns in Northeast Ohio.

Lorain native and speedskater Kelly Gunther is making her Olympic debut after coming back from a serious ankle injury four years ago. She will compete in the 1,000-meter event.

Brooklyn Heights' Kelli Stack and Sheffield Village's Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle are trying a second time for OIympic gold on the U.S. hockey team. Stack is a forward and McLaughlin-Bittle is a goaltender on the team favored to meet Canada in the gold medal event. Canada won the gold medal over the U.S. in 2010.

The United States will be represented by 230 athletes at the games beginning Feb. 7 in Sochi.

-- Associated Press

Man buried astride beloved Harley

Mechanicsburg -- An Ohio man's family is fulfilling his dying wish -- to be buried astride his beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

But it hasn't been easy. The project required an extra-large cemetery plot to accommodate a Plexiglas casket for Billy Standley and his 1967 Electra Glide cruiser. Embalmers prepared his body with a metal back brace and straps to ensure he'll never lose his seat.

Standley's family said he'd been planning it for years. He said he didn't just want to ride off to heaven, he wanted the world to see him do it in a see-through casket. His sons began fashioning it about five years ago.

The Dayton Daily News reports that Standley of Mechanicsburg, west of Columbus, died of lung cancer Jan. 26 at age 84.

-- Associated Press

Fitzgerald names pick for lieutenant governor

Columbus -- Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald named a Dayton-area Democrat as his choice for lieutenant governor Jan. 17, a little more than a month after his first pick stepped aside due to tax bill issues.

Sharen Neuhardt joins the ticket with hopes of unseating Republican incumbent John Kasich. She is a licensed attorney who had two unsuccessful runs for Congress, losing to Steve Austria in 2008 and Mike Turner in 2012.

Neuhardt has been a frequent critic of GOP-backed abortion restrictions and women's health issues, appearing at a Statehouse rally last year. She also was active in President Barack Obama's reelection campaign.

The FitzGerald campaign announced the new running mate in a fund-raising email to supporters, calling Neuhardt the "daughter of a police officer and sales clerk" who was the first member of her family to go to college.

"It's through Sharen's life experience that she shares my commitment to bolstering the middle class and restoring economic security to Ohio families -- and my impatience with our state's lackluster economy," FitzGerald wrote in the announcement. "She is a steadfast champion of women's health and shares my outrage at the current governor's attempt to dictate to women what should be private medical decisions and restrict access to critical health care services."

-- Marc Kovac, Dix Communications Capital Bureau

Attorney

general hopefuls at odds over contracts

Columbus -- Democratic attorney general hopeful David Pepper said he would require increased disclosures and block campaign contributions from firms during contract considerations, among other changes he would make to ensure law firms are selected to conduct state business for their abilities and not how much they contributed to candidates.

The former Hamilton County commissioner outlined a five-point plan Feb. 3 in Columbus in response to "pay-to-play" allegations against incumbent Republican Mike DeWine stemming from a Dayton Daily News article describing law firms that received potentially lucrative state contracts after contributing to DeWine's campaign.

Dewine denied the claim.

"It's not true," he said. "We pick lawyers based on their qualifications. Everything is transparent. Every campaign contribution I get is disclosed, and every contract we let is disclosed."

-- Marc Kovac, Dix Communications Capital Bureau

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