COLUMBUS -- Around this time every year, Gary Smith makes his annual plea to Ohioans to refrain from fireworks -- whether bottle rockets and firecrackers or seemingly harmless novelties like sparklers and snaps.
As an emergency room physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital and as president of the Child Prevention Alliance, Smith knows all too well the dangers involved.
"I see the child when they come in in excruciating pain from a severe burn," Smith said. "I see the parents with tears in their eyes feeling like they were bad parents because this happened to their child Because it's such a pervasive tradition, people just naturally assume [that fireworks] must be safe. But folks, it isn't."
Smith was the featured speaker at a press conference in Columbus Friday, where Prevent Blindness Ohio, the state fire marshal's office and others urged residents to leave the fireworks displays to the professionals.
"Fireworks are extremely dangerous," said Sherry Williams, president and chief executive officer of Prevent Blindness Ohio. "Do not purchase, use or store fireworks or sparklers of any type. Protect yourself, your family and your friends by avoiding fireworks and sparklers."
In Ohio, it is legal to use trick or novelty items, including sparklers, snakes and snaps. Consumer class fireworks, such as bottle rockets and roman candles, can be purchased by anyone older than 18, but they cannot be used in Ohio and must be taken over the state's borders within a couple of days.
The illegal possession or discharge of fireworks can result in a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
The law goes largely unenforced, however. And lawmakers are considering legislation to lift the consumer fireworks ban altogether, with proponents saying the products are safer today than in years past.
Daniel Peart, director of government and regulatory affairs for Phantom Fireworks of Youngstown, told lawmakers earlier this year that while consumer consumption of fireworks had more than doubled, related injuries had decreased by more than 60 percent.
"No other industry boasts a safety record that can simultaneously proclaim increased usage and decreased injuries," he said. "Consumer fireworks are safer now than ever before."
But Prevent Blindness Ohio and other groups counter such assertions, saying all fireworks, even sparklers, have caused injuries.
Williams said injury rates are on the rise since at least five other states legalizing consumer use in the past decade. She also cited national studies of fireworks being imported from China and other countries that are defective.
"Fireworks really aren't safe," Williams said. "They're still explosives I think common sense would dictate that the more people that do a dangerous thing, the more injuries you're going to have."
Nationally, about 11,100 people were treated in emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nearly 70 percent of those injuries occurred between June 18 and July 18.
Also, there were more than 200 fireworks-related fires in Ohio between 2014 and '16, according to statistics compiled by the state fire marshal's office. The total included 100 fires last year that caused more than $280,000 in damage and 18 injuries.
" Fireworks are associated with serious injury, especially for the pediatric age group," Smith said. "These injuries can and often do occur to children or bystanders, and adult supervision is not enough to prevent these injuries."
He added, "In my opinion, families should enjoy the Fourth of July and celebrate our nation's birthday by going to public displays conducted by professionals rather than purchase backyard fireworks for personal use."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.