A front page story with the above headline appeared in the Community section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday (August 19, 2009). Assuming Councilwoman Barbara Fraser’s smoke-free air bill passes and is approved by the voters in November, how will it be enforced in bars and elsewhere, especially given the added twist of an exemption for some bars?
That was part of the thrust of this story. The other was the reaction from those bar owners directly affected by the legislation, and the concern they had of losing customers to nearby exempted locations, including casinos.
I understand the reporters talking to bars owners. They’re an easy (and vocal) group to identify. But I’d like to also see them investigating the other side of the story. What about asthmatics and others who are extremely smoke-sensitive and whose lives are consequently severely restricted? And when they do try to lead something like a normal life are frequently sickened by secondhand smoke exposure in public venues.
A prime example is Don Young, a former smoker and laryngectomy survivor, who’s health is fragile and who is now extremely smoke-sensitive. You can read his story on-line here.
They are part of the unseen and unheard majority. Their story should be told too!
By the way if you click on the link to the on-line story, as of 1:27 pm on Thursday, August 20, it had attracted no less than 171 comments! The first one, from “firsties,” likens supporters of smoke-free air to Commies. I suppose that’s an improvement over Nazis!
firsties August 18, 2009 9:24PM CST
I will never accept the results of a public election. What kind of country do we live in that allows the public to decide to ban smoking. This must be commie Russia or something. Whats next allowing a measure to ban smoking even at bars and having the people decide.
Bar owners are on the spot with St. Louis County smoking bill
By Phil Sutin and Paul Hampel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
If St. Louis County voters decide on Nov. 3 to ban smoking in indoor public places, county officials would take the word of bar owners who apply for an exemption.
An election bill exempts casino floors and “drinking establishments” whose income from food is 25 percent or less of gross income. Exemption applicants would certify they meet the measure’s requirements. An earlier version of the smoking ban bill would have required them to submit receipts and data about their expenses and income relating to food and alcohol sales to support their applications.
On Tuesday night, the St. Louis County Council voted 4-3 at its regular meeting to move the bill toward final passage next week.
The agency that would implement the measure, the licensing section of the county’s revenue department, has only three employees and soon will be down to two as a staff member is transferring to another county job.
Eugene Leung, director of the revenue department, said Monday that he could not add another employee to handle applications because of a hiring freeze.
Some bar owners, meanwhile, are unhappy about the prospect of a smoking ban.
“It’s looking like I’m going to get the shaft no matter what,” Kevin Gallagher, owner of the Sports Attic in Brentwood, said.
Leung said his department’s licensing section would handle the bar exemption in a way similar to processing applications for Sunday liquor licenses. Those licenses require establishments to have at least 50 percent of gross sales from food or sales of $200,000 a year. The county’s Sunday liquor application form does not make applicants provide documentation to back up the monthly breakdown of sales of food and liquor that they put on their form.
Applications for a Sunday liquor license must be notarized, and so would the form for a smoking ban exemption. Putting incorrect information on a notarized form could get applicants in legal trouble, Leung said.
The county agency, which also handles a variety of other licenses, is set up to process applications, not investigate them, Leung said.
County liquor applicants also must obtain a state license. The state will verify information in Sunday license applications if its agents doubt their accuracy, Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the division of alcohol and tobacco, said Friday. The agents can require applicants to show such items as food guest checks, cash register tapes and food and liquor invoices.
The bill sets a $35 application fee for the smoking ban exemption.
It also says the county health department or its designee would enforce the ban.
Gallagher said a smoking ban would put his Sports Attic in a precarious situation.
“My business is about 50/50 food and alcohol,” Gallagher said. “But I would estimate that at least half of my customers are smokers, and if this passes, they will not be happy campers. They will go down to the other bars where they can drink and smoke and watch sports.”
Gallagher said, “What I’m trying to figure out now is whether it would make financial sense for me to cut back on my menu choices in order to boost liquor sales to 75 percent. That way, I’d keep my smoking customers. But if I fall below 51 percent on food sales, then I lose my Sunday license and can’t open for football games.”
One of the venues that Gallagher said might grab his smoking customers in the event of a ban is the Sideline Bar, just two blocks west of the Sports Attic on Manchester Road.
Joyce Trokey, the Sideline Bar manager, said food accounts for less than 25 percent of her business. That would put her in a position to benefit from the business of smokers who would stop going to bars where their habit is forbidden.
“Sure, we could use the extra business,” she said. “But as a non-smoker myself, I say bring on a total ban, in every municipality. That would be the only fair way to do it,” she said.
The bar and restaurant in the well-known Yacovelli’s restaurant in Florissant are physically separate. “I’m not against a smoking ban,” owner Jack Yacovelli said. “But I know without a doubt we’ll lose our smokers to nearby bars where they will still be allowed to light up,” he said.
“That is just blatantly unjust. It’s got to be all or nothing. And what really irks me is that (the County Council) will exempt the (casinos). I think they’re favoring them because they’re a big tax cash cow.”
County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, who introduced the bill, has declined to discuss the compromises she made to get the support she needs. She has said she prefers a clean-air bill without the casino floor and bar exemptions but she said “this bill is a critical bill. This bill will help.”
By the time the final vote on the measure takes place on Tuesday, the deadline will have passed for putting the issue on the November ballot. So if the smoking ban is approved by the council, a court order will be required before it can go before voters on Nov. 3.