Out of the blue, the St. Louis County Council stepped into the secondhand smoke limelight when Councilwoman Barbara Fraser introduced a smoke-free air bill on Tuesday night [July 21, 2009]. If approved, it would mean voters will have a chance to vote on a county bill in the November elections.
The first hint I got of this was inadvertent: I happened to refresh a page on my computer as I was preparing to do one last thing before retiring at 12:30 am that Tuesday morning, only to see this headline staring at me:
The story, by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Paul Hampel, kept me up until 2 am!
I was already planning to meet with one of the county legislators that afternoon to discuss the subject of secondhand smoke but this initiative floored me, since I have good relations with Councilwoman Fraser and I would have expected some notice of her intentions. It was apparently a hurried decision, possibly because there isn’t much time for county council approval to get it on the November ballot.
At this stage, there is no draft bill, only a placeholder, so I cannot judge the merits of the proposed legislation, but nonetheless I felt it worthwhile testifying in favor during the public comments portion of the county council’s meeting that evening, when members of the public have three minutes to address the council. (I’ve pasted my comments below in full.)
I was the first speaker called and the only other person to address the council that evening during the public comment period was Mr. Bill Hannegan, a vigorous opponent of smoke-free air already known to readers of mogasp’s blog (e.g. see “Hannegan continues SHS deception” posted on July 12, 2009). I was able to find a good synopsis of his comments posted on the county council website the following day here – quick work by St. Louis County personnel! – and I’ve pasted them below ahead of my own testimony.
After we each addressed the county council Mr. Hannegan and I were interviewed in turn outside the council chamber by KMOV News 4 reporter, Mark Schnyder, and the story was near the top of the 10 o’clock news on Tuesday evening and also posted on the KMOV website here.
“I’m worried about the County bars. I don’t want to see them stuck with a smoking ban and St. Louis City bars have no ban at all. Or any business, I would like to see each business make up their own mind and set their own policy.”
“This is just like a virus. The only difference is that you just put up a sign, take away the ashtrays, and problem gone. It’s not complicated science.”
The following is the St. Louis County Council transcript of Mr. Hannegan’s address, as officially recorded in the minutes of the meeting on the web:
“Mr. Bill Hannegen (sic), 5399 Lindell, St. Louis, MO, representing Keep St. Louis Free, addressed the County Council and related his discussion this date with Mr. Roger Jenkins, “a lead Scientist with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory”. Mr. Hannegen stated that Mr. Jenkins’ group did a study of 16 cities, with St. Louis included among the cities, to determine how much smoke employees in the cities across the country were actually being exposed to. He stated that the most smoke exposure the study could find was equivalent to one cigarette per week, which was located in a very smokey bar with no ventilation or air filtration.
Mr. Hannegen stated that air filtration is very affordable and is being employed throughout St. Louis County, and that air filtration can bring out the high point of one cigarette a week down to a very, very tiny fraction. Mr. Hannegen stated that bars and restaurants across St. Louis City and County are putting in the
air filtration machines, “they take out not only the second-hand smoke but all the other concerning airborne hazards, swine flu, they take 100% of swine flu out of the air of any bar or restaurant. That certainly is a concern coming up this Fall as St. Louis is threatened with a swine flu pandemic.”
Mr. Hannegen also shared his understanding of St. Louis City’s attempts to implement a smoking ban, noting that he does not think the St. Louis City bars will be included in its smoking ban. Mr. Hannegen expressed his concerns related to a strict smoking ban being voted in by St. Louis County residents and the resultant restrictions that would then hinder St. Louis County government from altering this ban at a later date. He proposed that the St. Louis County Council itself pass a smoking ban if necessary which would then allow the St. Louis County Council to make changes to the ban at a later date.”
Evidently, Mr. Hannegan has contacted Dr. Roger Jenkins, a scientist who has frequently conducted studies in collaboration with and for the tobacco industry, including the well-known “16-cities” study cited. I’ll deal with that and some of his other comments in greater detail in another blog to follow.
As to Mr. Hannegan’s statement that if a smoke-free referendum in November was successful the council would not be able to easily amend it, here’s an e-mail reply I received from Patricia Redington, County Counselor:
Subject: RE: Legal question re. petition initiative not allowing subsequent council amendment
Date: July 22, 2009 5:00:22 PM CDT
Dear Mr. Pion –
The St. Louis County Charter does not prohibit repeal or modification of voter-approved ordinances. I have not researched the case law on this matter.
Below is the full text of my address to the County Council. Each member of the Council received a copy prior to the meeting. Note that County Executive Charlie Dooley was absent so I omitted reference to him in my opening address:
Testimony during Public Comments of St. Louis County Council Meeting of Tuesday, July 21, 2009, by Martin Pion, President, Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution.
“Madam Chairman & Members of the council:
Let me first thank you for considering this important public health issue and Councilwoman Barbara Fraser for initiating it.
I’d like to begin by briefly putting this into historical perspective. In 1987, tobacco lobbyist John Britton nearly succeeded in passing a very weak state Clean Indoor Air law with preemption which would have forbidden any stronger local ordinance. Weak preemptive state laws were a nationwide strategy of the tobacco lobby at the time and Missouri GASP, of which I’m president, played a major role in defeating it in Missouri.
Then in 1993, the Missouri Clean Indoor Air Act passed without preemption, and that generated a lot of activity throughout the state, including metro St. Louis, with many jurisdictions not only adopting the state law but strengthening it.
St. Louis County was no exception. In 1995, over strong tobacco industry opposition, it enacted an ordinance making all county-controlled buildings and vehicles smoke-free. Before that, smoking was allowed in this building, the County Government Center, for example.
In 2005 St. Louis County Council considered a bill to substantially extend smoke-free air protection to the private workplace. By then the tobacco industry had lost credibility so it was up to surrogates to whom they are closely allied, or others who were persuaded they would lose business, to fight the proposal.
James Repace, an internationally recognized expert on the science of secondhand smoke, gave a compelling half-hour PowerPoint presentation at a hearing before the Justice and Health Committee in April 2005 on behalf of Missouri GASP.
The bill finally came to a vote in August, 2005, when this council chamber was jammed with employees bussed in by Harrah’s Casino to oppose it. After a very lengthy public comments portion the bill was defeated 4:3. A similar bill introduced the following year was also defeated.
County Executive, Charley Dooley, made it known that he opposed these efforts then and remains so today. That opposition is apparently based on concern for the negative impact on business and resulting loss in tax revenue. I suggest Mr. Dooley reviews the experience of New York CIty, which passed a comprehensive smoke-free air ordinance years ago and has not seen these effects. In fact, when I spoke to a representative of the New York Restaurant Association some years ago he said they no longer opposed the NYC ordinance.
In conclusion, I would prefer that you emulate Clayton and enact a comprehensive smoke-free air ordinance to protect the public health, but if that’s not politically feasible, we would support a public referendum.”