P-D Letter 11/14/09: “Smoking ban: Beyond dollars and cents”

A St. Louis county restaurateur had a letter published in the Saturday St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the second most-read edition of the newspaper. In it he complains of the recently-approved county smoke-free air ordinance, not just because of concern over loss of business but what he also sees as hypocrisy on the part of government by omitting some workplaces, especially casinos.

I can sympathize somewhat with his argument, although it’s based on a lack of knowledge of this issue and the history behind it, plus a skewed viewpoint. After all, the very first U.S. Surgeon General’s Report dedicated to secondhand smoke, which concluded it was a cause of lung cancer in healthy nonsmokers, appeared in December 1988. That should have been followed by immediate government action to make all public places and workplaces smoke-free.

Instead, the tobacco industry reacted by immediately denouncing the report as a politically-motivated document without scientific merit and continued to work assiduously to oppose any restrictions which might affect its profitability.

The result has been a painfully slow process, most effectively pursued at the local government level, which only within the last few years is bearing fruit in the St. Louis region in Missouri. Even now, there are plenty of local jurisdictions still unwilling to act to protect the public health and welfare when it comes to secondhand smoke.

And the recently-enacted ordinances in St. Louis City and County have exempted some workplaces, most notably casino gaming floors and small bars, leading to the indignation in this letter writer. There is no rationale for this, other than political expediency. Eventually, employees in those and every other location must be provided with a safe, smoke-free work environment, the sooner the better.

I’ve submitted an on-line letter in response to Mr. Leve here and already there are other good letters, e.g. from Reese Forbes, who wrote:

I do not sympathize with Mr Leve – I do not remember him speaking at the County Council, St Louis City aldermanic hearings, or Kirkwood or Ballwin city halls. I was there for all of it, but with business people saying “WE don’t want ANY law” then there were no voices to prevent these exemptions. So that is what you got Mr. Leve, it is your fault, not our fault, as we want strong laws without exemptions.
So now you could stop rehashing the tired old song of “let business do what it wants” because by this time you should realize that song and dance is a looser. Instead you could work to close those exemptions – we will be glad to help.

BOTTOM LINE: Involuntary secondhand smoke exposure should not be a part of the job description.

Smoking ban: Beyond dollars and cents
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Letter

I am in the restaurant business in St. Louis, and to some it may seem that I am opposed to the smoking ban solely for economic reasons. My concerns go beyond the dollars and cents of the smoking ban. My main concern is the hypocrisy of our government.

The new law will ban smoking in most public places. Casinos are exempt because the politicians don’t want to risk losing the tax revenue that would come with a decrease in the area gaming industry. I thought that the ban was to protect people from secondhand smoke in public places. Apparently there is a caveat that states, “We will protect people from second hand smoke, unless it costs us tax revenue.”

One could argue that you don’t have to go to the places that are exempt from the smoking ban, and I would reply that this is true now. You don’t have to go into any business that allows smoking. This is the consumer’s right to choose, and this is how business in America used to be done. You give the consumers what they want or you go out of business. 

The government has no right to make that decision for anyone.

A second caveat must have been written that states, “We will protect people from secondhand smoke by forcing small-business owners to follow the ban because the small-business owners don’t have the resources raise enough opposition against the ban.”

Children obviously don’t have a say on where their parents take them, so one could argue that children need to be protected from the secondhand smoke. I want to know about all the children who live with a parent or parents who smoke. Who is protecting these children? Politicians know that to try to regulate what people do in their own homes is one sure way to be out of a job come next election time, so they must have added a third caveat to the smoking ban that states, “We will protect people from secondhand smoke, unless it might cost us our jobs.”

So I ask you, who is the government protecting here: our interests or theirs?

Cliff Leve — St. Louis County

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