Post-Dispatch 08/29/2009: “County smoking ban goes to voters”

A story with the above headline appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and is important for several quotes, including the following attributed to County Councilman Steve Stenger and County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Stenger said that the exemptions are reasonable for the time being, but that he looked forward to the day when smoking was banned outright in all indoor public places.

And this from County Executive Charlie Dooley:

Dooley, who quit smoking two years ago, said he planned to vote for the ban.

Dooley said: “It would be impressive if it were statewide and there were no exemptions at all.”

That reiterates Mr. Dooley’s comments during his press conference, shown on KSDK Channel 5 immediately preceding the bill signing, when he said:

County Executive Charlie Dooley Press Conference, August 24, 2009

County Executive Charlie Dooley at a Press Conference, August 24, 2009, immediately preceding bill signing

I would prefer, first of all, that it be a statewide ban. That’s the first thing. Secondly, it would be impressive if it had no exemptions at all. That being said, this is the best they [the county council] could do. People are going to vote on this ban. I’m going to support that.

In answer to another reporter’s question: “You don’t think there should be any exemptions at all; just those exemptions; or changes to those exemptions?” Mr. Dooley replied:

Again, if we’re going to do this, it needs to be done, first of all, statewide, but even more importantly, I believe the perfect solution to this would be no exemptions.

Just a few weeks ago Councilman Stenger insisted on the exemptions for casinos, small bars, and Lambert Airport, and at one time Mr. Dooley was unwilling to support such legislation out of concern over its economic impact.

The above quotes provide grounds for hope for a stronger bill, which Missouri GASP continues to pursue.

By Margaret Gillerman and Paul Hampel

CLAYTON – It’s now up to St. Louis County voters to decide whether to let the person at the next table light up.

Despite earlier reservations, St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley on Friday morning signed a bill that puts to voters the question of whether smoking should be banned at most indoor public places in the county. 

Dooley, who quit smoking two years ago, said he planned to vote for the ban.

Because county approval came after the deadline for getting issues on the Nov. 3 ballot, it needed a court order to be placed there. Circuit Judge John Ross took that action later Friday. 

Dooley had favored a statewide ban with no exemptions, but said he believed the bill he signed Friday was “a step in the right direction.”

“This is not a perfect bill, but at the same time, I recognize as well that people should have the opportunity to vote on this important health issue,” Dooley said. “The people of St. Louis County deserve to be heard at the polls.”

But whether this ban is too weak or too strong is a debate that’s likely to continue through the fall.

The bill exempts casino floors, the smoking lounges at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and “drinking establishments” whose income from food is 25 percent or less of gross income. The exact number of those bars is undetermined.

A coalition of the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and Tobacco Free Missouri had urged Dooley to veto the bill. 

After Dooley signed it, the groups issued a statement saying they’re “extremely disappointed” and that the bill was flawed and full of loopholes.

Their statement said: “While many view this as a good step in the right direction, from our experiences, a weak ordinance ends up compromising the health of workers, offers false reassurance to the public and stands in the way of future efforts. In communities across the country, we have observed how difficult and excruciatingly slow it is to come back and close loopholes in weaker laws.” 

Stacy Reliford, governmental regional director for the American Cancer Society, said it was too early to say what the groups’ next step would be. However, she said they would continue to push for a more comprehensive ban in the county. The countywide ban as now proposed would not go into effect until January 2011, she said.

County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, who sponsored the bill, said that she believed the bill would have a big impact.

“I think this bill is obviously great for public health,” Fraser said. “And it’s good for workers and businesses.” 

Fraser said the American Cancer Society had opposed the failed county bill to ban smoking in 2005.

“How many county residents and visitors have been exposed to secondhand smoke since the American Cancer Society helped defeat the last piece of smoke-free legislation?” Fraser said. “This a great step forward, and I’m glad county voters will get to be heard on this very important issue.”

Councilman Steve Stenger, D-South County, said the effect of the bill would be to “protect about 98 percent of workers and patrons” countywide.

Stenger said that the exemptions are reasonable for the time being, but that he looked forward to the day when smoking was banned outright in all indoor public places.

Dooley said: “It would be impressive if it were statewide and there were no exemptions at all.

“That being said, this is the best they (the County Council) could do.”

Bill Hannegan, who fought the county bill, said he thought opponents would have a real chance of defeating it at the polls.

People are angry about “the way it was handled and the unfairness of the law,” he said.

“For example, bowling alleys are out of luck. You can smoke on a casino gaming floor but can’t smoke at all in a bowling alley. Bowlers will be angry about this.”


Kirkwood voters will also decide on Nov. 3 on a smoking ban in their city.

And the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is considering a bill that would ban smoking in all bars and restaurants. 

Its sponsor, Lyda Krewson, said Friday she planned to take it up again when the aldermen reconvene next month.

“I hope the city will lead the way and pass the bill we already introduced,” Krewson said. “I don’t want to pit restaurants against bars. I hope we are able to pass a broad and effective piece of legislation.”

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(1) Comments

GASPcoloredlogoMartin Pion wrote:  August 29, 2009 1:13AM

Missouri GASP stated repeatedly before St. Louis County Council, and also during a meeting with Mr. Charlie Dooley, County Executive, that we wanted a bill with no exemptions. Councilwoman Barbara Fraser’s first substitute bill was close to that goal but she failed to get enough votes among her council colleagues, so introduced a second substitute with exemptions, which eventually included the three major exemptions in the bill just signed by Mr. Dooley.

While we are disappointed that a bill with essentially no exemptions wasn’t passed we recognize this is still an important achievement, should it be approved in November by a vote of the people. 

Our goal remains a bill with virtually no exemptions, since everyone’s health is important, and that it should be approved by the county council and not subject to the uncertainty of a public vote.

Martin Pion, President, Missouri GASP

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