The following story by reporter Phil Sutin with the above title appeared in today’s ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH (06/23/2009). It notes that the Kirkwood citizen’s group Healthy Air for Kirkwood is close to reaching its signature target to put a smoke-free air initiative on the ballot, assuming the city council doesn’t adopt it themselves, which appears unlikely from the remarks of council members reported below. This is the second such effort in three years. The first in 2006 lost by roughly 55% to 45%, thanks in part to deliberate confusion injected by the opposition, as mentioned in the article below.
KIRKWOOD — For a second time, city voters could decide whether to ban smoking in indoor public places.
Promoters of an initiative announced Monday they are close to obtaining enough signatures to put the ban on the ballot. If their petitions are valid, they hope for an election in November, but a combination of city charter and state election deadlines could put off the election until February.
With very few exceptions, the measure would allow smoking only in private homes, private vehicles and outdoors. Hotels could still designate up to 20 percent of their rooms for smoking, and some private clubs and retail tobacco stores would be exempt under the measure.
The initiative is a revised version of a ballot question voters defeated in November 2006, with 54.6 percent of about 14,300 voters opposing it.
Supporters need 1,036 signatures to start the initiative process. A group called Healthy Air for Kirkwood has collected about 950 signatures, said Debra Cotten, group spokeswoman. The group hopes to collect about 1,100 signatures and turn them over to city officials before July 1, she said. The St. Louis County Election Board would check the validity of signatures.
If the petition has sufficient signatures, the City Council has 60 days to either accept the proposal or allow a public vote. The election must be no more than 120 days after the council rejects the proposal. If an initiative election is to occur in November, the council must reject the measure by Aug. 25.
The initiative comes as Clayton aldermen plan a final vote next month on a smoking ban there. Ballwin and Arnold have anti-smoking ordinances. Illinois prohibits smoking in indoor places. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has expressed support for an areawide ban; St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley says such a ban should be statewide.
Kirkwood Mayor Arthur McDonnell said he polled council members last fall and they agreed that a smoking ban should be regionwide or statewide. “We need to be fair to the business community,” McDonnell said. A ban would hurt local businesses in a difficult economy, he said.
James Wright, president and chief executive officer of the Kirkwood Chamber of Commerce, said the initiative would damage the competitiveness of city businesses.
Mike Duffy, a restaurant owner and president of the Kirkwood restaurant association, declared the ban “is not good for the citizens of Kirkwood. Citizens vote with their money to go to restaurants,” he said. “If they don’t want to go to a place (that allows smoking), they will go someplace else.”
Duffy called the initiative a waste of taxpayers’ money because Kirkwood voters rejected the idea 2½ years ago.
This year’s anti-smoking measure includes several changes from the 2006 version that respond to objections from business people. It specifically defines “smoking”; the 2006 version, by contrast, banned material that was a “combustible substance.” Duffy and other opponents of a smoking ban said that wording would prohibit backyard barbecues and food booths at traditional city events and would even prevent restaurants from making french fries.
I posted the following comment on-line following the above article. I suggest you visit the Post-Dispatch on-line here to check the comments and consider adding your own:
DigitalPariah is spouting a tired tobacco industry argument: That when it comes to this one public health issue of secondhand smoke exposure we should leave it to private businesses to decide. It’s nonsense of course – we have many rules and regulations affecting private business to ensure the health and safety of both patrons and employees – but that doesn’t stop the tobacco industry or its surrogates from repeating the same flawed argument.
The City of Kirkwood is also using another tobacco industry ploy: Punt the issue up the field instead of dealing with this health issue locally. What elected officials are in fact doing is avoiding their responsibility to protect the health and welfare of those whom they were elected to represent and serve. And using the threat of loss of business as cover for their failure to act. No one ever argues “loss of business” when a restaurant is closed down due to a case of food poisoning, for example.
These arguments amount to a smokescreen and should be ignored. I applaud “Healthy Air for Kirkwood” for taking this initiative and doing what their own city council is clearly failing to do, despite having the power to act.
Martin Pion, President, Missouri GASP