Kirkwood unanimously rejects smoke-free air petition

Asbestos, or Non-Asbestos? It's YOUR CHOICE!

Asbestos, or Non-Asbestos? It's YOUR choice!

“I urge you to take no action. One Word: CHOICE. This is America. My restaurant is nonsmoking. MY CHOICE. Mike Duffy allows smoking. HIS CHOICE.”

That’s what Roberto Trevino (Amigo’s Restaurant) said when speaking against the proposed smoke-free air proposal during the public portion at Kirkwood City Council meeting on Thursday evening, July 16, 2009.

Later, Kirkwood City Council members considered and voted on the initiative petition submitted by Healthy Air for Kirkwood or HAK, a local citizens group. It was introduced as Bill # 9992, amending Chapter 17 of the Code of Ordinances to add “Clean Air Act- Smoking Prohibited.”

[Please click here to view the proposed language.]

Just as in 2006, when local residents mobilized to submit an initiative petition in support of smoke-free air, after hearing public testimony, the council again voted it down unanimously on Thursday. That was no surprise. There is no leadership being provided by the council on this issue, and opponents are painting it as just a repeat of a past failed effort by unspecified “outsiders,” even though there’s no evidence to support that.

If we look at this historically, it used to be the Tobacco Industry that actively opposed smoke-free air efforts and was invariably viewed as the outsider, and supporters of local smoke-free air laws were able to galvanize support by exposing tobacco lobbyist’s involvement. How are smoke-free air opponents getting away with their absurd current tactic?

Even if the major voluntary health agencies, such as the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Heart Association, were actively involved, that would be perfectly legitimate for such organizations: Its consistent with their goals of protecting the public from the twin scourges of cancer and heart disease, both of which have been firmly identified as causally linked to active smoking and secondhand smoke exposure.

Missouri GASP is a grass roots group representing Missouri communities and with a legitimate interest in what happens in Kirkwood, since we have members and supporters living there, yet we’ve stayed out of this in recognition of HAK’s concern about being tarred with this “outsiders” brush!

What continues to mystify me is how dumb some elected officials and opponents are on this issue, repeating mindlessly some of the tobacco industry’s favorite arguments.

Those speaking during the public portion were evenly divided, as follows:

Pro (“Healthy Air for Kirkwood”): Reese Forbes, Tony Masi, Mary Murphy-Overmann
Other Pro: Steve Peterson, Ryan Lundy, Stacy Reliford, Michele McDonnell, Ed Tasch, Mike Prosperi, Doug Luke, PhD., Matt Wever, Kathy Paulsen – 11 total

Con: Gary Pederson, Alan Hopefl, Mike Duffy, Eric Jost, Linda Fenton, Roberto Trevino, John Dodson, Jr., Lloyd Sneeters, Joe Toenjes, Steve Sheridan, David Kuneman – 11 total

You could argue that one, Steve Peterson (VP Student Affairs-Meramec), was neutral but I would put him the smoke-free air camp. He reportedly said:

“The community colleges do not allow smoking on our campuses. In the Fall, Meramec will be smoke free, also the South County campus. The college smoking ban had student input.”

[mogasp: I’ve made copious use of notes taken by Alan Hopefl of the entire proceedings and then made available in the public domain. My thanks to him and to Reese Forbes for e-mailing them to me. Also my thanks to Joan Loemker and Nancy Wamble, who both attended, for additional information.]

First, some excerpts from public comments in favor of smoke-free air, mostly based on notes by someone present opposed to smoke-free air:

Reese Forbes (Kirkwood resident and member of HAK): Referring to ban opponents he said, “I’ve never heard such misinformation.” He claims that this ordinance is a new one and was written by Kirkwood people and lawyers.

Tony Masi, Healthy Air for Kirkwood: Claims it is possible to run a smoke-free restaurant. Claims second hand smoke is toxic like lead paint and asbestos. He hopes the Council will favor the health of citizens over profit.

Stacy Reliford (ACS employee currently on maternity leave): “It is the responsibility of the government to protect citizens.”

Michele McDonnell: “We think of this emotionally.” Claims there is a causal relationship between breast cancer and second hand smoke. Has anecdotes from NY City smoking ban.

Ed Tasch (Executive Director of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse – St. Louis): Claims a smoking ban is important. Bans send a message to children. “What’s the message the Council wants to send to our children?”

Mike Prosperi (IMO’s Pizza –Kirkwood): One of the few restaurants that are smoke free for the last two years who spoke in favor of the smoking ban.

Douglas A. Luke, PhD

Douglas A. Luke, PhD

Dr. Doug Luke, Professor at Washington Univ.: Supports the ban.

[mogasp: Douglas A. Luke, PhD., Adjunct Professor, Department of Community Health in Biostatistics, is a leading researcher in the St.Louis University School of Public Health. He’s also Director of Washington University’s Center for Tobacco Policy Research. I’m fortunate to know him personally through past Missouri GASP collaboration.]

Mary Murphy-Overmann: “Healthy Air for Kirkwood represents the 1200 persons from Kirkwood who signed the initiative petition to ban smoking in restaurants.”

Here are some comments by opponents:

Alan Hopefl: Commented that this proposed ordinance would take away the ability of business owners to choose how to run their restaurant and deprive patrons of the ability to choose where they want to eat. Also stated that there are no studies showing that banning smoking in restaurants/bars produces any health benefits. Studies on second-hand smoke are mostly done in households and cannot be extrapolated to bar/restaurants. Urges Council to vote against the initiative.

Mike Duffy, President of Kirkwood Restaurant Assn.: He has serious concerns about the effect this ban would have on his business. He requests the Council take no action on the initiative. He recommends a State-wide ban that would not harm us. Our customers vote with their money.

Eric Jost, Orchard Way: (owner Top Hat Tobacco): This issue came up several years ago. The tobacco industry is already over regulated. We need to consider that we are a business friendly community and we need to continue that. Please take no action on this.

Linda Fenton, N. Signal Hills: I oppose this bill. This proposal is from outsiders pushing their issue. Our elected leaders in 2006 said this should be a state-wide issue. Who is sponsoring this? This is not the same process Clayton used. An outside group is forcing this on Kirkwood.

John Dodson, Jr. Peeke Ave. I’m a pipe smoker and I am opposed to this for one reason. It upsets me that our rights are being taken away. Our Constitution gives us rights. This would take away a business owners rights. This ban is unconstitutional.

David Kuneman (Rock Hill, retired chemist and supporter of the on-line Smokers Club): Talked about economics and retail sales from states that have or don’t have smoking bans. He claims smoking bans hurt retail sales. In states with a ban 7% lower sales. Looking at the big picture, bans hurt businesses and will hurt business here.

During the debate by council members there were some noteworthy comments, according to sources who were present:

Kirkwood City Councilman, Iggy Yuan

Kirkwood City Councilman, Iggy Yuan

Councilman Iggy Yuan (at left): “Healthy Air for Kirkwood is like vultures circling and waiting for the right moment to pounce. We decided this a few years ago. It’s a matter of choice. My parents came to America for freedom. Channel your energies to the County or State on this issue.”
Kirkwood City Councilman, Timothy Griffin

Kirkwood City Councilman, Timothy Griffin


Councilman Timothy Griffin (who made an unsuccessful motion to delay action): Pronounced the proposed ordinance as “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” He stated: “I cannot understand why this should be passed. No one forces anyone to go into places where smoking is allowed. Tobacco is legal. Their efforts should be on making tobacco illegal. It’s not right to tell business owners how to run their business. I don’t care what Paris does, or what Ballwin does, or Clayton does.”
.
There was further discussion before the vote to pass the bill by Council Members Godi, Ward, Jaksetic, and Mayor McDonnell, who spoke of honoring the choice of the citizens via the initiative process and putting the matter on the ballot for them to decide.

[mogasp: In other words, instead of doing their duty to protect the public health and welfare from a clearly defined environmental hazard, they’re punting the ball. That certainly takes courage!]

Below is the on-line ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH story by reporter Phil Sutin. It generated a FLOOD of reader comments, 147 as of July 19, 2009 at 11:19AM CST, possibly more than any other recent smoking-related story:

Kirkwood to consider smoking ban tonight
07/16/2009

“UPDATE:

The Kirkwood City Council has opted to let voters decide this fall whether to ban smoking in indoor public places.

After listening to speakers address the proposed ban for about an hour, the council voted 6-0 to reject an initiative brought by an anti-smoking group. The vote means the matter is now headed for the November ballot.

KIRKWOOD –- Opponents of a smoking ban in the city have submitted to officials a competing initiative proposal. Rather than prohibit smoking in indoor public places, it would require their operators to post signs saying whether smoking is permitted, restricted or forbidden.

The city council tonight will consider a smoking ban that an anti-smoking group put before it through a petition with 1,089 signatures. Supporters of the competing proposal have to collect 1,035 signatures on petitions to start the initiative process.

Choose Kirkwood, the promoter of the competing initiative, submitted its proposal to City Clerk Betty Montano late Tuesday afternoon. Officials asked the St. Louis County Election Board to check whether the 10 members of a committee sponsoring the initiative are Kirkwood voters, as the city charter requires.

Montano asked the sponsors to clarify the title of its initiative. She said it should make clear that the proposal involves the posting of signs relating to smoking.

Joe Toenjes, a leader of Choose Kirkwood, said his group, the anti-smoking group and the city council should have a dialog on the issue. He urged the anti-smoking group to withdraw its proposal.

Toenges said he would like to see the competing proposals on the same ballot if the anti-smoking initiative goes forward. He said his group could obtain the needed signatures on its proposal in a month.

If the council opposes the anti-smoking initiative, it may reject it tonight for procedural reasons. After a rejection, the council must pass a bill that would put the initiative on the November ballot. The council must vote on it at two separate meetings in August if it is meet the Aug. 25 deadline to put items on the November ballot. The council meets only twice more after tonight before the deadline.

[mogasp: The first vote is expected to be at the council meeting on August 6.]

Sponsors of the anti-smoking initiative and city officials want a vote in November. The officials have said the cost of the election would be less than one in February, the next available election date. St. Louis County has a proposal on the November ballot; Kirkwood would share the cost of that election. Kirkwood would have to pay the entire election cost in February.

With very few exceptions, the anti-smoking measure would allow smoking only in private homes, private vehicles and outdoors. Among exceptions are 20 percent of hotel and motel rooms designated smoking rooms, private clubs established before March 1 and retail tobacco stores.”

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