Post-Dispatch 10/23/09: “City aldermen endorse smoking ban — now look to county voters”

Unexpectedly good news from the City of St. Louis! It appeared even quite recently that Ald. Lyda Krewson’s efforts at passage of a smoke-free air bill, even with weakening amendments, was being stymied.

On October 7, Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman wrote on his political blog a story titled “Smoking ban proposal, as amended, trudges along at City Hall” after Krewson’s bill was finally voted out of the Board of Aldermen’s Health Committee. Yet earlier today, it came before the full Board of Aldermen and received a lopsided vote of 20 to 7.

It won’t go into effect unless St. Louis County’s ordinance, which is on the November 3rd ballot, is also approved by a majority of county voters, which makes that vote even more crucial for both proponents and opponents of smoke-free air. Metro St. Louis is poised to take a major step forward on this issue. It remains to be seen if health will prevail.

10.23.2009 3:01 pm
City aldermen endorse smoking ban — now look to county voters
By Jake Wagman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — After a marathon session of debates and amendments, city aldermen approved a bill Friday banning smoking in most bars and restaurants on Friday.
Now they’ll have to wait for the county to decide if it goes into effect.

The bill, approved by a sizable majority, would ban indoor smoking — with several key exceptions — provided St. Louis County approves a similar prohibition.

If nothing else, the board’s action increases the stakes at next month’s election, where voters in St. Louis County will now, in effect, decide the smoking ban issue for much of the region.

The plan passed at City Hall, like the county version, exempts casino floors, some hotel rooms, private clubs and tobacco stores.

But, in the city, small bars — defined as establishments with 2,000 square feet or less of service space where food sales are “incidental” to alcohol consumption — would be allowed to wait five years before having to comply with the ban.

The provision was introduced to protect neighborhood taverns already struggling in a tough economic climate. The county plan has a provision exempting “drinking establishments” — where equals 25 percent or less of total sales — from following the ban at all.

For most city businesses, the ban would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011, but only if voters in St. Louis County approve a similar measure on Nov. 3.

Supporters of the city’s ban, such as the mayor and others, were concerned that acting alone would put St. Louis businesses at risk of losing customers across the city limits.

It was also the proposal that backers thought had the best chance of passing, even if some criticized it as toothless and lacking punch.

“It’s just not pure enough to win the support of many groups,” said sponsor Alderman Lyda Krewson said. “But I consider this to be a pragmatic bill. This bill is not a bill for the extremists on either side.”

The local chapter of the American Cancer Society issued a statement immediately after the decision saying they were “extremely disappointed” by the “watered down smoke free law.”

“Partial measures work for politicians but not for health,” the statement said. “In essence, we’re telling some workers they warrant legislative protection, while telling others they don’t.”

The board approved the bill by a 20-7 margin. Before sending it to the mayor’s desk for final approval, aldermen must vote one more time on the proposal. It’s unlikely, though, that any aldermen — let alone enough to prevent final passage — would change their votes. Amending the bill in the latter stages is also difficult.

Alderman opposing the bill included Benton Park Alderman Ken Ortmann, who owns a tavern in Soulard, and Bevo Mill Alderman Stephen Gregali, who at one point during the four-hour meeting asked that his ward be excluded from the ban.

This is a “chicken you know what kind of bill,” Gregali said, who protested the exemptions.

“If we’re going to ban smoking, let’s do it,” Gregali said. “If the bars aren’t going to go out of business, either will the casinos.”

Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett introduced a measure that would have banned smoking on casino floors, but it was soundly defeated.

“Whether it’s a small business café or multi-million dollar casino, no business should be exempt from ensuring that our city residents are able to breathe clean air in the workplace.” Triplett said in a statement after the vote.

St. Louis follows Kansas City, Clayton and Columbia, Mo. in passing smoke-free legislation. Illinois already has a statewide ban, meaning that, if county voters embrace a ban, most of the region would have some level of restriction on indoor smoking.

Krewson said she hopes the vote will lead to smoke-free advocates in the city to campaign in favor of the county measure.

But, Krewson acknowledged, that goes both ways.

“People that are opposed to things are often more vocal,” Krewson said.

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