Transcript of Mark Reardon’s KMOX Radio Prop N debate, 10/26/09

Back on October 26, 2009, Chris Sommers, owner of Pi Pizzeria, and I faced off against Bill Hannegan and Gary Voss on the Mark Reardon Show on KMOX Radio. Hannegan maintains the blog KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE and Voss is Executive Director of the Bowling Proprietor’s Association of St. Louis. The live link to the broadcast, which lasts 26 minutes, is at: http://podcast.kmox.com/kmox2/2025839.mp3

Recently, someone wrote me that a comment I made during this broadcast had provided a strong rebuttal to Hannegan’s ventilation claims, but I couldn’t remember having made it. That prompted me to go back and listen to the broadcast and I ended up transcribing it in its entirety.

Reading my transcript of what I said at the time is somewhat embarrassing. When I write something I typically review it several times and may edit it heavily before I’m satisfied. When you’re on the air live that’s not possible, and that is evident upon reading the transcript. Anyway, despite that drawback, this is what was suggested as being a good rebuttal to Hannegan’s ventilation claims:

…. when you smoke in an indoor place you’re polluting the air that everybody has to breathe. … There is no ventilation solution. I know that Bill believes this [i.e. that there’s a ventilation solution]. He’s not a scientist. I am. We’ve done measurements, and had independent measurements done, of the various ventilation systems that are out there that are supposed to work. Even in places where they’ve got separate rooms with separate ventilation systems, the smoke can still get into the non-smoking areas, and that’s because of the science of secondhand smoke.

My entire transcription of the broadcast is pasted below, after having checked and corrected it numerous times while listening to the broadcast referenced above. There may still be small discrepancies but it’s now very close to the original. You can judge that for yourself and if you find any significant omissions or errors please let me know.

Transcript of Mark Reardon Show, KMOX Radio, broadcast live from 2:10 pm to a little before 3:00 pm on October 26, 2009.

Mike Reardon KMOX Radio Show host preparing to go on-air

Mike Reardon KMOX Radio Show host preparing to go on-air

Mark Reardon, after opening music:

I’m not used to having a full studio on a Monday. We’re gonna get right into this hour. We have sort of the Monday version of what we do on Friday’s Round Table because Proposition N is coming up which would ban smoking on a certain amount of businesses on the November ballot in St. Louis County and we didn’t really even cover this: I know the news department did over the weekend, but the City did vote, and the Board of Aldermen did on Friday, to go along with this. So if the County passes the smoking ban St. Louis City will also have a ban.

Let me introduce everyone that’s in the studio here, and see if I can get around the table. Bill Hannegan is head of KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE, he’s been on the show before. Hi Bill, how are yer?

Bill Hannegan, KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE, & Bill Voss, Bowling Assn. (on R)

Bill Hannegan (BH): How’re you doing Mark?

Mark Reardon (MR): Welcome back to KMOX. Good to see you. Gary Voss is the Executive Director of the Bowling Proprietor’s Association of St. Louis. Gary, how are you?

Gary Voss (GV): I’m doing fine, Mark.

MR: You have a couple of different bowling alleys here, in Ellisville and in Pacific as well. Welcome.

Pion & Sommers at Mike Reardon Show, KMOX

Martin Pion, MOGASP President, and Chris Sommers, Pi Restaurant (on right)

Martin Pion, the President of MoGASP, which, you want to tell me what that stands for Martin?

Martin Pion (MP): Missouri GASP: Group Against Smoking Pollution.

MR: Group Against Smoking Pollution. And Chris Sommers, who is the owner of President Obama’s favorite pizza place, if I’m not mistaken. How are you, Chris?

Chris Sommers (CS): I’m very good. Thanks for having me.

MR: You have two locations now, right?

CS: We do. We just opened our second location on Manchester four days ago.

MR: I don’t see any pies in hand right now.
[MP: Mark was alluding to the name of Chris’s Pi Pizzeria.]
I’m a little disappointed but I’ll, I’ll let you go on that.

CS: I did bring you down one to one of your colleagues, Mr. Carney …

MR: That’s because he has a pay-to-play policy! We don’t have that here on the Mark Reardon Show. I’m just kidding. Anyway, thanks for coming in.

Let me, um. I’ll just start with you Martin, because we’ve had these discussions before. I will tell you just a personal story. I was in Columbia over the weekend for homecoming on Friday night and Saturday night, out and about, for the Mizzou game. Outside of the game I had a great time, the game wasn’t very fun, but in Columbia, Missouri, a town that I spend a lot of time in, they have a smoking ban.

As a nonsmoker, and I’ve admitted this before in the past, so we’ll get to the anti side here in a second, I like it just from the standpoint that I don’t have to smell like smoke, because I’m not a smoker. Now I do have some concerns about this from a business perspective, um, but why do you think the time is right to have this in St. Louis County?

MP: The time is right because we’ve been waiting 23 years for it. I think that’s a long time to wait. We should have had this back when the Surgeon General’s Report, this one came out in 1986.
[MP holding up report in studio]
That was conclusive evidence that secondhand smoke was harmful to nonsmokers, exposed healthy nonsmokers; caused an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 lung cancer deaths a year in the U.S.; couldn’t be dealt with by separating smokers; and nonsmokers, and caused a lot of asthma as well. I mean, it was already a major health issue, identified as such, back in 1986. We’re now 2009. In my view, we’ve been waiting 23 years too long.

MR: Chris, you’re a business owner. Is Pi smoke-free right now?

CS: Of course it is. Yes!

MR: You, you made the decision as a business owner, to not allow smoking in your establishment.

CS: Absolutely no-brainer!

MR: OK. And I respect that. I think that business owners should have the right to do that. Why should the government, though, because you support Proposition N, why should the government tell you, as a business owner, that you can or can’t have smoking?

CS: Well, I like to use the analogy of health codes and sanitation in my restaurant. You know, back in the ‘60s before St. Louis County mandated adherence to health codes in restaurants it was optional. So can you imagine walking into a restaurant that you did or did not know whether or not they were being investigated and whether or not they had to adhere to certain standards? It’s the exact same thing. Smoking on airplanes. Yea, it was very controversial when we dropped smoking from airplanes, but now we look back on it and say “Oh my God, can you believe that they actually allowed smoking on airplanes?”

MR: Well, most people, younger people wouldn’t even imagine. I mean, I tell the story every once in a while because I’ve been in this business for long enough, people used to smoke in radio studios. It wasn’t very good for the equipment.

Bill Hannegan, we’ve had these conversations before and you still do not like this. KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE is the group. So, in response to what Martin and Chris are saying here, you know, it seems to me and I’ve said this before Bill, no matter how you feel, it almost seems inevitable, could be wrong, that most people don’t like smoking and they’re gonna go out on election day and say we don’t wanna have smoking in these restaurants and, for the most part, bars, and we’ll get to some of the particulars in the exemptions, which I think is controversial. So what’s wrong with this, Bill?

BH: Well, I believe the business owner has the right to allow the use of a legal product on his private property and if the business owner will allow smoking in his private property the citizens have the freedom to patronize that establishment, or work in that establishment, and technology’s available that can make the air in that establishment, even though smoking is allowed, cleaner than the air outdoors, and I think that’s sufficient. I think at that point private property rights kick in.

CS: You speak about Herbie’s perhaps, on Euclid. I’m opening a restaurant across the street from there. It’s actually one of my hangouts and I’m good friends with the owners of that restaurant as well, and they know, and I know very well, that very frequently I have to move because that Marth Brothers system is extremely ineffective, absolutely ineffective …

MR: This is the ventilation system?

CS: Yes. It does not clean the air. It still wafts directly to the person next to you. It may make a slight improvement but it has ruined many a meal there for me, yet I still want to go there because I like them, I like the atmosphere, I like the food but I don’t want my experience ruined by somebody who has blatant disregard for people around them who lights up a cigarette.

BH: Well, a manager who works there tells me that she can work 8 hours at Herbie’s and come home at night and her hair does not smell like smoke, and her clothes don’t smell like smoke. She’s the employee, these laws are meant to protect employees, and she’s very happy with the system. She feels protected. She feels comfortable. And that’s what important.

MR: Hang on, hang on just a second Chris and Martin, I want to get your response, but Gary, I want to get your response as a business owner. We’ve heard about bowling alleys. One area that I agree with your side on in particular is that the casinos are exempt from this but other establishments may not be. You think that you’re unfairly being not singled out in that situation.

GV: Oh, absolutely. How can they put a bill to St. Louis County, all the public out there, and say this is a health bill, this is for health. And turn around and say, yea, but this part, it’s OK to work at a casino and get sick; it’s OK to go to the casino and breathe secondhand smoke, but you can’t go to other places. Our bowling industry has spent thousands and thousands of dollars. We addressed the smoking situation 20 years ago and we made arrangements in our own bowling centers, We have non-smoking areas throughout our entire bowling area. The only thing we’re asking for is to have an area that we can build for smoking. St. Louis County is saying you must be totally ….

MR: Under this ordinance you would not?

GV: No, absolutely not. Under this ordinance we are totally involved in the ban. We are actually a new betting that we come under, er, now we’re a sports arena, according to the definition of the bill, it doesn’t come anywhere near. Not one other business in that definition has a lounge.

MR: Martin, why is it that the casinos are exempt? I think to a certain extent this is a rhetorical question: there’s a lot of power, a lot of lobbying there, and I’ve talked to Barb Fraser extensively about the way that this legislation was crafted and they couldn’t get everyone on board if the casinos were not exempt here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s fair to other business owners.

MP: No, I agree, it isn’t fair, and we didn’t support these exemptions. We worked very hard to make sure there weren’t any exemptions. We were working for a bill that was comparable to Americans for Nonsmokers Rights model ordinance. That only allows two exemptions: private residences, and 20% of hotel/motel guest rooms. That’s what we would have liked. In fact, we were looking for a bill without even exempting hotel/motel rooms. We said, why should you even do that? And, unfortunately, Barbara Fraser couldn’t get the four votes she needed for that. And so, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. I’ve looked at this closely. I figure that this is going to give about 95% of public places and workplaces, and the people who work in those locations, protection from secondhand smoke. So, I’ve been persuaded that this is a bill we should support, even with the exemptions, and assuming it passes on November 3rd, that’s what we’re hoping, we’re not gonna leave it there. We’re coming back and we’re gonna try and get these exemptions removed. I’m hoping there will be strong support for this bill so the county council won’t feel afraid to come back and revisit it.

MR: Chris, let me ask you, as a business owner, and you have to have conversations with other business owners on The Loop, do you feel that, even though you personally have taken a stand and justifiably so on smoking in your establishment, what about business owners like Gary and others that want to have smokers allowed? Do you think it’s unfair to them at all?

GS: Not really. I wouldn’t be absolutely opposed to a mantrapped smoking lounge in a bowling alley. I do think exemptions at all are wrong, but as Martin said, this is what we’ve got and this is what we have to get behind. But I know that most bar owners are for statewide, certainly. They don’t want people going across city lines, county lines, but, at the same time, I feel like if smoking is the only thing you’ve got going, or the only atmosphere that you have in your place, if that is mission-critical to the success of your business, perhaps you need to choose a new business. And I just can’t imagine that that is really a deal-breaker when people point to all these studies in Illinois and elsewhere where there’s been a downturn in business. I mean, it’s equally proportionate to the downturn in every business due to the economy.

MR: I want to talk about that. We’ll pick up on that note and get everyone involved here. Bill Hannegan, the head of KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE, Gary Voss, the Executive Director of the Bowling Proprietors Association of St. Louis. They’re both opposed to Proposition N, which is the smoking ban that county voters will decide upon next week. Martin Pion, President of MoGASP, and Chris Sommer is the owner of Pi, two locations, and is in favor of the ban as well. Hang on….

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Mark Reardon (MR): Good afternoon, and we’re talking about Proposition N, which is the smoking ban that’ll be on the ballot in St. Louis County and will have an effect on St. Louis City as well because, if it passes, the city will also ban smoking.

Bill Hannegan, the head of KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE, Gary Voss, the Director of the Bowling Proprietors Association of St. Louis, Martin Pion, the President of MoGASP, and Chris Sommer, who owns Pi Restaurant on Delmar and now on Manchester and is a proponent.

Bill, and we’ve had these discussions but I want you to have at these differences of opinion, Chris brought this up a few minutes ago, how this would affect businesses, and how it has affected businesses in other communities, whether it’s in St. Louis or in Illinois where they have a smoking ban, so I’m worried because I want to see businesses succeed. I do think it’s more fair to do these when it’s statewide, so you can’t cross a county line or a state line, but from that perspective, what is your opinion on how the businesses are affected? I have a feeling we’re going to differ from Martin’s view here.

BH: We had a University of Wisconsin economist, Dr. Chad Cotti, who specializes in studying the effects of smoking bans, take a look at St. Louis City and he predicts that a city-county smoking ban, even though it’s passed in both the city and the county, would cut bar employment in St. Louis City 19.7%, that’s 1 in 5 bar jobs would go, and this is what’s based on what’s happened in the rest of the country. He’s done national studies of the effects of smoking bans on bar and restaurant employment.

You know, I really trust the restaurant and bar owners when they tell me what effect its had on their business. When the smoking ban went into effect in Ballwin, Elsa Barr told me that her business was down 35% and that she would have to relocate outside of Ballwin when her lease was up.

Harry Belli, who had Harry’s West, told me that his business was down 15% after the start of the smoking ban and his business was no longer profitable, and he had to close his doors, and his 40 employees lost their jobs

Federal Reserve economist, Dr. Michael Pakko, and other Federal Reserve economists, have looked at the Illinois situation and they found that the Illinois smoking ban cost the State of Illinois 200 million dollars in tax revenue.

MR: Lemme stop you right there, because I don’t discount the figures from Ballwin but if you have a county-wide smoking ban, and you now have the city, are you saying that the smokers are just not going to go out?

BH: Right. They tend to stay home. A smoker like me, I smoke when I go out to a bar. If I can’t smoke in the bar, I stay home. I don’t complain. If a business owner, of his free choice, wants to ban smoking in his bar, that’s fine, but, I won’t be there.

CS: What about all the people who don’t, don’t, go out because they can’t stand the smoke? We continually forget about them and they talk to me ad nauseam about how appreciative they are, whether it’s my restaurant or any other restaurant that is nonsmoking. And you know, I hear that most of my employees smoke and many of my regular bar patrons smoke and they tell me they appreciate it too. They just go outside to have a cigarette. And so the economic downside, or the fact that fewer people are going to come out is absolutely absurd.

MR: Isn’t there a flip side though? For people who would …. and I do think there is something to this, as a nonsmoker.

MP: What about people who don’t go to the restaurants and places where there’s smoking. Exactly what Chris said and what Bill is ignoring. We always see the negative side because those are people you can count easily, but you can’t count the people who stay at home because of the smoking. It’s probably a neutral situation. Realistically, although there are many more nonsmokers now than smokers in the adult population – it’s 75% don’t smoke now – but I would say in terms of the number of people for whom it’s a real issue it’s probably about the same number of nonsmokers as smokers who are not going ….

MR: But lemme ask you this, Martin, because on the flip side of that we’re in a very tough economic time, I don’t think anybody can deny that. There are statistics out there that small businesses in Illinois and casinos have been affected by this. I think the Missouri casinos have been the beneficiaries of that, so why, at this time in particular, pass an ordinance like this. This is what I think Bill would, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think other people and business owners, and Gary, you can chime in here, say, wait a second, this is a time when we should be adding jobs: this could hurt businesses.

GV: I have a question: Why would you want to go to a place that has smoking if you don’t smoke?

MR: Because you may not have a choice.

GV: Right. We have a choice in our centers. We have areas where you can smoke. We have “Non Smoking” days. We have non smoking leagues. We never have an event in our bowling centers where a child’s involved where we have smoking in the center. So we do police ourselves. We’ve been doing this for 20 years and all of a sudden we’re going to say “You can’t have smoking explicitly.” I would lose 30%, not just me but my bowling centers across the country, this is a national number, We would lose 30% approximately, of bowlers at our centers.

You know, some teams have one bowler that’s a smoker and four non-smokers and that smoker won’t go in another room and smoke a cigarette and everyone would be happy, because we do have the ventilation, because our places are zoned. Our rooms are all completely different. You have to come and visit us to appreciate what we have. So I should tell all my customers, 35 or 40%, get out of the bar because Mr. Jones wants to come and have a beer. Well that’s just not the way the world works.

MR: Martin, you want to respond to that?

MP: Well, beer and smoking are rather different, aren’t they? I mean, when you smoke in an indoor place you’re polluting the air that everybody has to breathe. I don’t see the connection. There is no ventilation solution. I know that Bill believes this [i.e. that there’s a ventilation solution]. He’s not a scientist. I am. We’ve done measurements, and had independent measurements done, of the various ventilation systems that are out there that are supposed to work. Even in places where they’ve got separate rooms with separate ventilation systems, the smoke can still get into the non-smoking areas, and that’s because of the science of secondhand smoke.

MR: You don’t deny that ventilation systems have made things a lot better though, do you?

MP: Here’s the thing though. I’m not saying that they don’t make things better, but we’re talking about a smoke-free environment, and to suggest that this is a smoke-free environment, it’s a safe environment: That’s just not true.

MR: What’s the rule – because I don’t have the specific part of the ordinance, I do have the ordinance in front of me – under the ordinance, if smoking is banned, where can people go to smoke? They can go outside of the business, right? I want to focus on the businesses in St. Louis County.

GV: In the ordinance, your entranceways, you can’t even smoke in your entranceways, based on this ordinance. We will be totally non-smoking. This would be OK if all the other across the state at one time came through and said there’s no smoking. We have bowling centers in St. Louis County. There’s St. Charles County, there’s Franklin County, and there’s Jefferson County that butt up to St. Louis County. Our bowlers would go there and the 21 bowling centers in St. Louis County should not have to give up their revenue because a group of people decided that there’d be no smoking in bowling centers.

MR: Gary, were you close to getting an exemption for the bowling centers in this legislation or not?

GV: No! They won’t even address us. We’ve been to all three hearings. We went previous years, two years ago and the county council won’t even address us.

MR: So you feel this is unfair to your industry in particular?

GV. Absolutely!

MR: Martin, on that note, on the health, the reason I was bringing this up where you can smoke is because there is the potential that if you allow smoking outside people are still going to inhale some smoke if they’re going by cigarette smokers.

MP: Yeh, well, we recommend that you don’t allow smoking near entrances to avoid that situation. This argument is a false argument to some extent. It was used to, in part, by a county councilman to defeat a 1993 ordinance that was gonna make the airport smoke-free. He was saying, well, if you have all these smokers around entrances isn’t that even worse than allowing smoking inside the airport where they’re more spread out? That’s an absolutely absurd argument and it’s a tobacco industry argument, frankly. It’s an argument that’s designed to obstruct progress on this issue. It’s not designed to protect nonsmokers.

MR: Bill, on the basic premise of your argument, and this is one of the areas that I’ve agreed in the past, is that you say it’s a freedom issue. Is that correct?

BH: It’s a freedom issue and it’s a property rights issue. I believe that the business owner has the right to allow the use of a legal product on his private property. I don’t believe personally that that’s an absolute right. I think it’s reasonable for government to step in and say, hey, you gotta put in ventilation to deal with the smoke, filtration, perhaps even restrict the access of people under 21. But I think these absolute smoking bans go too far. And I also want to point out that St. Louis is a big town. There are possibilities for all types of places, places that allow smoking, and places that ban smoking. I don’t see why we have to have all one type of business.

MR: Is the American Heart Association, and the Cancer Society and the Lung Association supporting this or not, because they did argue against. And they’re not because they don’t think it went far enough because of the exemptions?

MP: Yes, and that’s their argument, but, and before this bill was approved we were on the same side, we were arguing the same way. Look, why should you allow any of these exemptions? We didn’t think it was reasonable to do that. Now what we’ve got is a bill coming up for a vote on November 3rd. We’ve looked at it closely. We’ve decided that, because it does cover so many places. I mean look, this gentleman is arguing that it covers him. Well, OK, that’s good! It means we can go to your bowling place now if we want to and not have to contend with secondhand smoke.

GV: You won’t do it.

MP: I’m not saying I go bowling but I’m saying I could once this bill is approved. Bear in mind the fact, by the way, you’re talking about the economic issue. This doesn’t go into effect until 2011. By then the economy’s going to be completely different. We don’t know what it’s going to be by 2011.

MR: It could be worse.

MP: It could be worse, but you know, the other thing is when you talk about a health issue you don’t, are we talking about a health issue with H1N1? Are we saying the economy’s too bad to spend money on antiviral injections or anything? No!

MR: But Martin, where do you stop when it comes to the health issue?

MP: That’s a poor argument.

MR: No, it’s not a poor argument. You mentioned beer. He serves beer. Alcohol’s a problem. You have fat-laden burgers in your business?

GV: Look at a soda! You’d better be careful about soda.

MR: There’s all kinds of things that cause health problems.

MP: This is a dumb argument, and I’ll tell you why. Because it’s linking one health issue with a totally unrelated issue. I’m just interested in going to a place and be protected from secondhand smoke. I want to be able to go about my life, whether it’s at the workplace or another ….

MR: One of the things that secondhand smoke causes is heart disease, right?

MP: This is the slippery slope argument, really it is. I’m just interested in secondhand smoke. If public health authorities want to tackle greasy burgers that’s up to them. I’m not gonna worry about it.

MR: Hang on, we’re going to take another quick break. We’re coming back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

MR: Oh, man, the debates that are going on here. We should have had the KMOX off-air mikes going here for the debates in the studio!

Bill, you think this is potentially unconstitutional?

BH: Yes, I think it is, I think it violates the special laws clause of the Missouri Constitution and the special treatment that it gives to the casinos. Casinos are a closed-ended class of business. That means by law there can be only so many casinos in Missouri and the Missouri Constitution forbids government to give special privileges to that class of businesses.

MR: Do you think there’s anything to that Martin?

MP: Well, um, Bill just lost another legal battle, or was part of a group that just lost another legal battle. They were challenging whether it was constitutional for local municipalities to pass bills, any ordinance, that was stronger than the state law, and we knew from year’s ago when we looked into this that this was perfectly constitutional. So I’m going to bet that this fails as well, personally.

MR: Chris, we were having a discussion during the commercial break about, being as a business owner you would know these things, I’m just curious to get your thoughts because the argument is this is a health issue and I raised the question, well, what other analogies you can come up with, and I think maybe you did, a situation where government is trying to ban something that is a legal product.
Well, you said the government can regulate the temperature in the restaurant. Is that true?

CS: Absolutely. Everybody, at least on every shift in my restaurant, somebody has to be what’s called serve-safe certified, so they know the proper food storage temperatures. They know to make sure to keep cleaners and contaminants away from food product. I just went through this and I know what a headache it is to adhere to all this and how very very expensive it is at times to adhere to codes that help keep the public safe in restaurants. And this just goes one step further about keeping the public safe, and yes, I have an “A” in my window that tells me I have passed this. But should guests have to go and look to see whether restaurants allow smoking or not before they enter it? It’s not …

MR: OK, we’re short on time, I’ll ask the final question. Bill, do you have a website for KEEP St. LOUIS FREE?

BH: Yes, Google KEEP St. LOUIS FREE.

MR: And what about you guys, Martin?

MP: mogasp.wordpress.com

MR: Alright, thanks for coming. Gary, thanks for coming, and Chris I appreciate. We’re out of time.

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