Aug. 25: St. Louis County smoke-free air bill gets 4:3 vote; next stop may be County Exec.

I attended the St. Louis County Council meeting which started at 6 pm on Tuesday, August 25. Councilwoman Barbara Fraser’s bill evidently still contained exemptions for small bars, the gaming floor of casinos, and Lambert Airport’s smoking rooms, plus some other exemptions.

Councilman Fraser: Channel 5 interview just prior to council meeting

Councilman Fraser: Fox 2 News interview just prior to council meeting

Before the meeting Councilwoman Fraser was good enough to give me some of her time after being interviewed at the County Government Center by Channel 5 and Fox 2 News. During the latter interview she said:

“If we want to get started on this endeavor compromise is necessary.”

She reiterated to me that she had tried to get a stronger bill passed with none of the above exemptions but she was one short of the three other votes she needed, adding that she had worked hard for three months to get the support she needed.

She felt that this bill was still a strong bill, noting that the small bar exemption would apply to only 60 of the 1,000 bars with a liquor license in the county.

Missouri GASP has sought a smoke-free Lambert Airport for well over a decade and when asked if she could remove that exemption Councilwoman Fraser demurred. Our conversation ended amicably but with our differences unreconciled.

Councilwoman Hazel Erby was also willing to meet briefly before the meeting and provided a further reason for her earlier objection to the bill: the exemption for smoking in nursing homes. She intimated that this evening’s vote didn’t mean that the bill would move forward. However, a TV news report I read later in the evening on indicated otherwise:

“KSDK – The St. Louis County Council voted in favor of a proposed smoking ban Tuesday night.

The measure will go before County Executive Charlie Dooley and wind up on the November ballot. However, Dooley could still veto the bill. If voters pass the legislation in November, the law would go into effect in 2011.”

I was the first to be called to speak during the PUBLIC FORUM (please see my testimony below) and made detailed notes of those following me who spoke for and against, as well as during the discussion and vote on the bill itself. I’ve attached those notes below following my testimony.

GASP logo color
Testimony during Public Forum of St. Louis County Council Meeting, Tuesday, August 25, 2009, by Martin Pion, President, Missouri GASP

Madam Chairman, Members of the County Council, and County Executive:

I admit to being conflicted on this bill. I don’t typically visit small bars or casinos, so the major exemptions, other than the smoking rooms at Lambert Airport, don’t affect me personally.

However, Missouri GASP’s goal is to provide 100% protection for everyone, both members of the public and private employees. How do you, in good conscience, omit some individuals from this bill and say their lives aren’t worth protecting?

Those working in casinos and bars are among those most exposed to secondhand smoke, yet you’re telling them this is a good bill?

Martin Pion testifying (image from Fox 2 News at

Martin Pion testifying (image from Fox 2 News at

Agreed Councilwoman Fraser’s bill makes many places smoke-free, but exemptions send a mixed message: that secondhand smoke isn’t really that dangerous because we’re arbitrarily allowing it in some places.  Exemptions also invite charges of discrimination. 

Another major objection is putting it on the ballot, instead of the county council enacting it and putting it into effect promptly. A ballot measure will involve enormous amounts of time, energy and money with a very uncertain outcome. How can you justify ducking your responsibility by doing that?

The effective date can be delayed for existing businesses to give them time to adapt to the new rules and for the economy to improve but the bill must protect the health and welfare of all workers and all patrons through a 100% smoke-free policy.

State Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford just wrote to you committing to work for a comprehensive statewide smoke-free air bill but, she added, that required the impetus of a strong countywide bill

Those living and working in the county are yearning for leadership on this issue.

Now is the time for you to provide it.

Remainder of PUBLIC FORUM and vote on Bill# 228:

Dr. David Esher, physician – No one should smoke, but they’re entitled to make their own decision. I remember a girl sitting in the back seat of a car with smoking adults, making her eyes burn and causing her to cough. This bill gives me the opportunity to take my children to smoke-free environments. A child doesn’t have the choice when they go to a restaurant and sees someone smoking. And they may have asthma. Think about your own children.

David Kunemann – [MP: Retired chemist] Bill bans electronic cigarettes, which contain glycol and nicotine and what’s wrong with that? They won’t hurt anyone else in those environments.
The ban is to protect nonsmokers. If that is purpose you should prohibit radon.
If we want safe air lets not just discriminate against smokers.
80-90% of SHS can be kept out of areas by ventilation.
This is just class warfare against smokers

John Stein – Family physician in Chesterfield, member of many societies and all these organizations support that SHS should be eliminated. It’s a preventable disease. We can join other states.
All or nothing is ideal but we don’t live in an ideal world and I believe this is the best ord. we can achieve now.
Suppose you had 20 people drowning out at sea but only save 15 you’d save those you could and come back later. [MP: If we’re talking about employees on the gaming floor of a casino it may be too late to come back later. There is no knowing when you may be able to come back and provide them protection.]
Allow the public to vote for smoke-free air.

Bill Hannegan (KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE!) – Papers are predicted effect of a smoking ban in city and county, up to 63% of restaurants would see a loss and 80% in bars
1.1% decline in employment.
County will be unable to compete with city if you pass this.
Stenger’s district has over 40 bars so looks very much like the city, unlike west county, for example.

Joe Toenges, Kirkwood – Thanked Burkett, Erby, and O’Mara for opposing bill.
If you give them an inch they’ll take a mile. Ask them what happened in Ohio where they came back and extended the smoking ban after getting it passed.
These people are zealots. They say: We’ll keep doing this until it passes. Only thing they want to do is shove their agenda down our throats in a sad and bullying way. Mr. Dooley, veto this bill, which is nonsense.

Walter Sumner – Faculty member of Wash U., Remind you again about the small particles in tobacco smoke. E-cigarettes are fine, as are smokeless tobacco. I would like a society governed by Libertarian principles but when people are injured by small particles in cig. smoke and society bears those costs, thinks it’s appropriate for the vote

Ald. Fred Meyland-Smith

Ald. Fred Meyland-Smith

Ald. Phil Behnen

Ald. Phil Behnen

Ald. Lynn Wright

Ald. Lynn Wright

Town & Country Ald. Fred Meyland-Smith & Phil Behnen – As elected officials we understand the issues you face when considering a smoking ban. We strongly want you to proceed with the bill but it should be a uniform prohibition. Our board recently approved a resolution supporting your action. You have as your core responsibility protecting the health and welfare of your constituents.
(Note: Ald. Lynn Wright, who was to have joined her two colleagues, was delayed but arrived later.)

Sharon Hall – Can’t imagine why people would put money before health. My mother has had numerous surgeries, and still can’t sit on the toilet as a result of numerous leg amputations. Is 77 years old and weighs 67 lbs and just brought her home. [MP: I concluded mother is a smoker but wasn’t clear.]
Some of these people smoking in casinos and bars – whose going to take care of them?

Barber xxx – Generally when these smoking bills start they have good intentions, but there’s compromises, make unlikely bedfellows in the political process. Quinn gave us a sermon last week but voted against it 3 years ago. Barbara is running for higher office. Stenger has the casino.

Mayor Harold Diehlmann City of Creve Coeur – We were one of the 5 cities that started the ball rolling and I endorse the bill, even though it’s not perfect. When the state passes a bill that will make a level playing field .

Julie Stone, Libertarian Party, St. Louis – Unfair, and causes an undue economic burden on businesses. Suggested at least let businesses post a sign so patrons can make an informed opinion before they enter the bar. [MP: This kind of signage only approach is straight out of the tobacco lobby’s playbook.]

Marty Ginsburg – KMOX Radio was saying this is going to pass 4:3 as I was driving here so I almost turned around. In 2006 the Health Dept. was going to be given the same responsibility but said where are we going to get the money? What blows my mind is why are Creve Coeur and Town & Country coming here instead of doing it themselves? I’m tired of hearing parents with children coming here saying we can’t come into your bar.
See that Fraser took out 25% requirement for bars from the bill. Quinn & Stenger are attorneys: if this were black people you’d behave differently.

Jeff Gerhman, Independent Tavern Association – I applaud what you’re doing despite what I expect to happen tonight. I think this will have a devastating effect on small bars. The bill doesn’t represent a diversity of views and will clearly pit the city against the county. Casinos are exempt. There was an opportunity to permit air filtration to take out SHS instead of moving it elsewhere. Dooley we ask that you veto this bill.

Matthew Brown – Live in city but they’ve said numerous times that they’re waiting for the county to take the lead. I believe that eventually we’ll get a bill. Supports a partial bill.
We save a lot of time if our elected reps. look into the issue and come to a conclusion.
Believe citizens deserve to breathe clean air.

Public Comments portion ended at 6:42 pm

County Exec. said this county is moving forward on smoking in a holistic way.

Bill #228 introduced by Council member Fraser; Second Quinn

Erby – No
Burkett, No. Same as 4 years ago. I don’t see a smoking ban working in SLCty unless it’s statewide. Plus why is it exempting certain things. I’ve never been in favor of a smoking ban. My job has been cut in half by the economy and I do believe that this will effect businesses.
Wasinger – Yes. It’s a controversial issue. I do listen to each of you. My motive is to give the voters the opportunity to decide if most people in the county want smoke-free air. This isn’t perfect but it’s worth supporting.
O’Mara – No
Fraser – Yes. If this bill passes St Louis County voters will have the opportunity to vote on bill which provides for s/free air in most places. If we’d past this bill in 2005 how many people would not be alive today.
Stenger – Yes

Councilman Quinn: Exemptions may cover 5% of the buildings in St. Louis County

Councilman Quinn (left) commenting before voting, with Councilwoman Wasinger looking on

Quinn – Yes. “Some people have said there are a lot of exemptions in the bill, but my belief is that the exemptions may cover 5% of the buildings in St. Louis County.” There is an exemption for bars, but there are very few exemptions and I think it’s good to allow voters to decide.
4 Ayes
3 Noes
Bill finally passed.

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