I recently read a Kansas City Star columnist bashing the proposed Prop N, the countywide smoke-free air ordinance, which is on the St. Louis County November 3 ballot. I’ve written a Letter to the Editor in reply. You can read both the column and my reply below.
Voters will decide whether or not this important law will actually go into effect or not. It is being opposed by a group of of bar owners and others, almost all of whom don’t support smoke-free air. But the opposition also includes the voluntary health agencies, like the American Cancer Society. Like us, they wanted a stronger bill but unlike us, when they didn’t get it they decided to trash this bill as absurdly weak. I agree with some of their arguments against it – we made similar ones too when we were pushing for a stronger bill – but the fact is, this is still a good bill worth supporting. The voluntary health agencies should acknowledge that and not spread disinformation about it.
To rectify that I’ve posted below the actual bill approved by St. Louis County Council and signed by County Executive, Charley Dooley. You can verify for yourself if this is such a weak bill that it doesn’t deserve support.
On Nov. 3, voters in the county will go to the polls to decide the fate of a proposed smoking ban. But it’s an absurdly weak one, because it would allow smoking in many bars plus parts of the airport.
In fact, groups that usually support smoke-free laws, such as the American Cancer Society, have said they oppose the county’s plan. The groups figure that passing a sham of a law would make it tougher to approve a stronger one in the future.
But County Executive Charlie Dooley refused requests to veto the proposed ordinance. Dooley, who said he supports a statewide ban, said he wanted to give voters a chance to back a law that would be better than the status quo.
The machinations in St. Louis County show — once again — how foolish it is to have cities pass piecemeal attempts to protect the health of millions of Missouri residents.
A statewide, wholesale smoke-free law that would prohibit smoking in all public places is needed.
The General Assembly show approve that kind of law in 2010, and end the time-consuming waste of energy on passing patchwork laws throughout the state.
And here’s my response, e-mailed 10/19/2009:
Mr. Yael T. Abouhalkah supports smoke-free air but echoes the American Cancer Society’s unfair criticisms in his column “St. Louis County’s pathetic anti-smoking plan” (Oct. 12, 2009). He describes Proposition N on the Nov. 3 St. Louis County ballot as “absurdly weak.” That is simply untrue.
Missouri GASP, which has been promoting smoke-free air for 25 years, has focused on local smoke-free air ordinances after concluding that the tobacco lobby exerts overwhelming influence at the state level. Others now share our view and that has finally borne fruit in metro St. Louis.
Missouri GASP worked hard to eliminate the exemptions from the St. Louis County bill, especially three of them: small bars, casino gaming floors, and Lambert Airport’s smoking rooms. We weren’t successful, but the bill still covers all public and the overwhelming majority of private workplaces, as can be verified by checking the bill on-line at http://tinyurl.com/yg9o23h.
For example, every restaurant, with or without a bar, will be smoke-free, whereas almost all existing local ordinances exempt them.
This will be a major catalyst for action on this issue, substantially improving public health and welfare. We strongly support it.
Here’s further background:
A stronger bill that the voluntary health agencies and Missouri GASP supported, but which failed on a 3:4 vote, still contained these seven exemptions:
1. Private residences
2. Private clubs
3. Performers on stage in theatrical productions
4. Private and semi-private rooms in nursing homes where everyone agrees to allow smoking in them
6. Up to 20% of designated hotel/motel guest rooms
7. Cigar bars already in operation
The three additional exemptions in the bill on the ballot as Prop. N are:
8. Casino gaming areas
9. Drinking establishments already in operation where drinking comprises 75% of revenue
10. Lambert Airport designated smoking rooms.
Note that even the current 100% model ordinance of Americans for Nonsmokers Rights exempts private residences and 20% of hotel/motel guest rooms.
Please click the link http://tinyurl.com/yg9o23h to view/download the ordinance if you have difficulty reading the pages copied below. The exemptions are listed in Section 605.060.