Smoking ban is on hold in Wildwood

Wildwood’s stalling on the proposed smoke-free air bill is disappointing in view of the overwhelming public support it has garnered during council meetings. The bill apparently goes further than other comprehensive local ordinances by including outdoor restaurant patios.

Actually, I think that’s a good thing.

But Mayor Timothy Woerther, who opposes this bill, claimed this would make it stronger than even New York City’s current ordinance. I checked and he’s basically right, the section in that city’s code, published on-line at reads as follows:

6. Outdoor dining areas of food service establishments with no roof or other ceiling enclosure; provided, however, that smoking may be permitted in a contiguous area designated for smoking so long as such area: (a) constitutes no more than twenty-five percent of the outdoor seating capacity of such food service establishment, (b) is at least three feet away from the outdoor area of such food service establishment not designated for smoking, and (c) is clearly designated with written signage as a smoking area;

But, so what? Is there anything wrong with Wildwood showing leadership on an important public health issue that’s been crying out for action for over 20 years? Apparently Mayor Woerther and quite a few of his council colleagues think so.

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Smoking ban is on hold in Wildwood
By Margaret Gillerman

WILDWOOD — The proposed Wildwood Clean Air Act will likely smolder, unresolved, until after St. Louis County voters decide Nov. 3 whether to impose a countywide smoking ban.

But the city’s more stringent proposal ignited impassioned debate among City Council members Monday night, and attempts at compromise led one councilman to tender his resignation.

Mayor Timothy Woerther cautioned the council that he would veto any smoking ban that was adopted without a vote of city residents. On Tuesday he said, “At this juncture, my read is that there’s not going to be a push to bring this back until after we have the countywide vote.”

If county voters approve a ban, individual local governments still will have the option of adopting more stringent regulations.

Councilwoman Tammy Shea, Ward 3, said in a statement Tuesday: “This is a disappointment for those that believe this is good public policy supported by the residents.”

Councilwoman Jean Vedvig, Ward 4, another advocate for a city smoking ban, said that since May 11, more than 115 speakers at numerous meetings have testified at hearings. About 13 opposed the legislation, “but 100 some people supported the ordinance as presented,” she said. “We had experts testify that Wildwood would be a leader in St. Louis County and across the state.”

Councilman Bruce Colella said those advocating a public vote were abdicating their duty as elected leaders to make difficult public policy decisions. “If my judgment is not good enough on this, I don’t see how it would be good on any other issue,” Colella said, abruptly resigning. He later sent an e-mail rescinding his resignation.

The Wildwood measure would have prohibited smoking in all stores, restaurants, offices, businesses, public buildings, recreation areas, entertainment facilities and other places open to the public. It’s similar to the ordinance adopted by Clayton and to one being put before Kirkwood voters. However, the Wildwood plan went further, prohibiting smoking on outdoor patios of restaurants.

Vedvig said just four council members had publicly supported the measure. “I would say the mayor and 12 council members killed the Wildwood Clean Air Act,” Vedvig said Tuesday. “The mayor opposed this all the way down the line, and others sat in silence until 11 p.m. last night and then started saying all their objections and the exceptions they wanted.”

Woerther, a nonsmoker who has family members with asthma, said the Wildwood ordinance as proposed was too strict: “Our ordinance would be stricter than St. Louis County’s, stricter than Ballwin’s and stricter than what’s currently in place in New York City.”
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“There’s no reason to do this by fiat,” he said. “We need to have the residents tell us what sort of community they want to live in. There are impassioned pleas on both sides of this. It was very clear that many residents think cigarettes should be banned outright and others who say, ‘I want to live my life and operate my business my way.'”

Various health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, have criticized the county’s proposed ban as too weak and supported Wildwood’s stronger version.

Some business owners took the council’s inaction Monday night as a good sign.

Todd Furlow, manager of Indigo Joe’s Sports Pub and Restaurant, said a delay until after a countywide election made sense. “I’m all for that,” he said. “Why would Wildwood go ahead and pass an ordinance that’s twice as restrictive as the county before we even know what the county will do?”

Furlow said he and some other local business owners favored the county’s proposal because it would put more businesses on a level playing field. “If you do it municipality by municipality, you’re driving out revenue” from the businesses in that municipality.

Paul Thompson, special to the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.

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