Monthly Archives: May 2009

St. Louis considering a smoking ban — but ….

The print version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of Saturday, May 2, 2009, headlined the story “Smoking ban plan unpopular” but the full online title is:

“St. Louis considering a smoking ban — but only if the county joins in”

That really says it all. Politicians and public health officials have no problem dealing with minor or potentially major public health crises, the most recent in the latter category being [we’re not allowed to say “swine”] flu pandemic. But when it comes to the smoking and secondhand smoke pandemic which has been around for the last fifty years, our elected representatives dance around the subject.

I understand Ald. Lyda Krewson’s rationale. Mayor Francis Slay has made known that he won’t support her ordinance if it’s not matched by similar legislation in St. Louis County. And she’s taking a lot of heat from constituents and opponents in the City such as Bill Hannegan, who acts like the tobacco industry’s de facto local rep.

Unfortunately, Missouri GASP and others pushed hard for County legislation in both 2005 and 2006, only to see it defeated by the obdurate opposition of County Executive Charley Dooley, a former smoker who stopped after being diagnosed with COPD. Dooley’s rationale is the same as Slay’s: We cannot afford to lose tax revenues. It’s the old “wealth vs health” argument that is never applied to other health issues, and ignores the health costs due to secondhand smoke exposure, including increased employee absenteeism due to sickness, and even premature death.

Here’s the full text of the on-line article:

By Jake Wagman

ST. LOUIS — City Hall is poised to join the growing debate over whether to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and other public buildings.

But legislation introduced Friday by Central West End Alderman Lyda Krewson comes with a catch: It would only take effect if St. Louis County passes a similar law, a proposition that appears increasingly unlikely.

The proposal has managed to irk both opponents of a smoking ban — who say the current economic climate is the wrong time to consider new restrictions on businesses — and anti-smoking advocates, who say the city’s conditional approach lacks punch.

Krewson’s bill does provide political cover for those, such as the mayor, who support limits on smoking in public places, but only if the ban goes beyond the city limit.

“Why do that? So that you don’t pit one business against another in St. Louis city and St. Louis County,” Krewson said. “Let’s address this regionally.”

Krewson points to her own ward, which includes the Delmar Loop. There, restaurants on either side of the city line could potentially face different smoking regulations, though their entrances are just yards apart.

The push in St. Louis comes as the smoking debate heats up locally and nationally. Illinois has had a statewide indoor smoking ban since January 2008. A proposal pending in Clayton — which, like the Loop and the Central West End, is a destination for diners — has generated heated reactions from both sides.

In St. Louis, the proposed smoking ban provides for few exemptions. Smoking would be banned at almost all eating and drinking establishments as well as offices, polling places and elevators. Casinos and sports arenas — including enclosed places in outdoor venues such as Busch Stadium — also are included in the ban. The legislation would allow smoking in up to 20 percent of hotel rooms. Certain private clubs and tobacco stores are also exempt.

Businesses would be required to post “no smoking” signs and remove ash trays.

Penalties include a fine of up to $50 for individuals smoking in a prohibited area, and up to $500 for businesses that repeatedly don’t comply.

Even before Krewson officially introduced her bill on Friday, she was already hearing from opponents — including restaurants in her own ward.

“It would be detrimental to businesses in the city,” said Yvonne Angieri, a manager at Herbie’s Vintage ’72, which has moved into Balaban’s old location on Euclid Avenue. “We don’t want to be presented as another place you have to go to and follow the rules. That’s not what the hospitality business exists for.”

Tom Woolever, who runs Mamacita’s across town on Gravois Avenue, said it should be left up to the business owner.

“You put a big sign in the window. ‘You can smoke here’ or ‘You can’t smoke here'” Woolever said. “If you lose business because you are letting people smoke in there, fine.”

Diana L. Benanti, director of the Smoke-Free St. Louis City coalition, credited Krewson with taking a step toward enacting a smoking ban, though criticized the effort as too tentative.

“People we’ve talked to just don’t understand why we need to wait on the county,” Benanti said. “When we’re all sitting, waiting around for the other guy to do something, that doesn’t really spell progress.”

Indeed, the county appears no closer to passing a smoking ban than it did three years ago, when legislation died after an intense fight on the council. County Executive Charlie A. Dooley does not support a local indoor smoking ban.

At City Hall, Mayor Francis Slay, who has many family members in the restaurant business, has signaled his support for a bill that, like Krewson’s, lessens the risk that city businesses will lose customers that smoke.

However, whether the bill, likely headed for a committee hearing, even makes it to the mayor’s desk is questionable. The Board of Aldermen includes two members who operate bars, including Joe Vollmer, who runs Milo’s on Wilson Avenue.

Vollmer made clear Friday he will not support the smoking measure.

“Until it goes statewide, to me it’s a dead issue,” Vollmer said. “It’s hard enough in this economy.”