RFT 1/26/10: “When sweeping smoking bans take effect next year, many bar patrons might not even notice the difference”

This fairly comprehensive cover story by reporter Keegan Hamilton in the RiverFront Times of January 25, 2010, focuses mainly on bars which are expected to be exempted when city and county smoke-free air laws go into effect on January 2, 2011, and may benefit from it as a result. There is some question as to exactly which businesses will be affected. Many of the local actors are featured in this story, plus Bronson Frick of Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, based in Berkeley, CA, which played no direct role.

Charles Gatton, County Citizens for Cleaner Air

A surprising omission was any mention of former Ballwin Alderman Charles Gatton, who led “County Citizens for Cleaner Air.” This group spearheaded the highly successful campaign in support of Proposition N at the polls last November, to which was tied the fate of St. Louis City’s ordinance. Also omitted was any mention of Missouri GASP, which was active in all major metro St. Louis smoke-free air efforts in 2009 apart from Kirkwood. That was at the request of “Healthy Air for Kirkwood,” the local grass-roots smoke-free air group which successfully promoted their ballot issue.

Despite the focus of the story on bars that will remain smoky, it does end on a note of optimism for those who see this as a glass 98% full, rather than 2% empty, as evidenced by this concluding quote:

One of the lone barflies at Krueger’s on an icy Thursday afternoon, Tony Zivic, sets his cocktail on the bar and pauses to reflect on the issue.

“In a place like this, even if it did become smoke-free, I don’t think it would hurt,” he says. “The customers are loyal. If you like a bar and you like the company and the people, you’ll still go.”

You can read the entire story on the Riverfront Times on-line by clicking the title: When sweeping smoking bans take effect next year, many bar patrons might not even notice the difference

Below are excerpts from the story, highlighted in blue. Among those quoted are Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, sponsor of the City of St. Louis ordinance, and Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, sponsor of the St. Louis County ordinance approved as Proposition N at the polls, both of whom played crucial roles in the twin smoke-free air victories in the city and county.

Adam Becker, Kruegers Bar & Grill owner

Adam Becker, the second-generation owner of Krueger’s Bar and Grill in University City, expects his establishment to be exempt from St. Louis County’s new smoke-free law.

Ninth Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann (photo below left and below) enjoys a cigar at the Cat’s Meow, his family’s Soulard bar — which likely will permit smoking indoors in 2011 despite a citywide ban.

Photos from RFT by Jennifer Silverberg. Photos of Charles Gatton, Barbara Fraser, Pat Lindsey, Bill Hannegan, Jeff Gershman, and Jane Suozzi by Martin Pion, MoGASP.

Ald. Ken Ortmann lights up a cigar in his bar, the Cat's Meow

Ald. Ken Ortmann, owner Cat's Meow

Cat's Meow bartender Liz Janowski


Cat’s Meow bartender Liz Janowski (above right) says she quit smoking 27 years ago, but her job means “I still smoke, but not directly.”

Councilman Steve Stenger, who insisted on exemptions in the county bill for casino gaming floors, small bars, and the airport smoking rooms, was also interviewed:

Councillor Steve Stenger, St. Louis County

Steve Stenger, a councilman from Lemay, fought for the exemptions. “We tried to protect what we envision to be a small bar that serves primarily alcohol,” says Stenger. “We tried to give them at least some type of shield at least temporarily from the negative aspects of not being able to compete with the neighboring counties [that don’t have smoking bans].”

Barbara Fraser, the St. Louis County Council representative from University City who championed the bill and ballot initiative, says she would have preferred a stronger measure but compromises were necessary in order to muster support.

Cllr. Barbara Fraser,
St. Louis County

“It was part of the negotiation in making sure we had the four votes to pass the council,” Fraser says. “We actually tried a piece that had no exemptions, and it didn’t pass. To me what we have now is a great first step — it’s a wonderful step forward for our region.”

Among those in the tobacco control community who are quoted are Pat Lindsey, director of the Tobacco Prevention Center at Saint Louis University, and Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, which urged Missouri GASP to work to defeat the county bill and Proposition N on the grounds that it was much too weak. Instead, on the urging of MoGASP members, we played a very active role in its passage. The article alludes to opposition to the measure, while failing to mention that our group was among those actively supporting Prop N:

More significantly, the county law excludes all bars that derive more than 75 percent of their revenue from liquor sales alone.

For that reason, many health groups and hard-line ban supporters refused to endorse it.

Pat Lindsey, TFMo STL

“Health, lung and cancer associations that I deal with on a daily basis, they’re saying, ‘We have to oppose this,'” says Pat Lindsey, director of the Tobacco Prevention Center at Saint Louis University. “All the experts say, ‘It’s a bad ordinance. It has too many exemptions, and it’s too hard to go back and fix it later.'”

Bronson Frick, associate director of the San Francisco-based group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, says loopholes are common in smoke-free laws.

Bronson Frick, ANR

The statewide ban in California, for instance, excludes “owner-operated” establishments — a technicality Frick says many businesses have exploited by “making every employee a .0001 percent owner” on paper.

In Frick’s opinion, St. Louis’ new laws are among the nation’s most permissive. “The vast majority of the country already has a smoke-free law in place that is stronger than what St. Louis city and county plan to enact,” he says. “In terms of exemptions, it is definitely behind the national norm. And the usual phase-in period is 30 to 90 days. A year is almost unheard of.”

Bronson ignores the fact that the longer-than-usual delay was to allow city and county officials to identify and set up the licensing process required for bars exempted from the ordinances.

Ald. Lyda Krewson,
St. Louis City Ward 28

Alderwoman Krewson was asked by the reporter to guess at the number of city bars expected to be below the 2,000 square foot threshold.

“How many? I don’t know,” Krewson says. “Not too many. I don’t know the number. There’s nothing in the city right now that tracks that kind of thing.”

Bill Hannegan

Among the strong opponents interviewed were Bill Hannegan of Keep St. Louis Free, and Jeff Gershman, spokesman for the Independent Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association of Greater St. Louis, both of whom testified numerous times during the public comment periods against the county bill, for example.

Hannegan said he was expecting a broad bar exemption and then Alderman Schmid offered a narrower exemption.

“We were stunned,” Hannegan says. “All of a sudden Craig Schmid pulls this stuff about 1,500 square feet out of the sky. He even admitted it’s arbitrary. I was, like, ‘Where did you get this shit?'”

Ald. Dionne Flowers, St. Louis City Ward 2

When the bill went before the entire Board of Aldermen, Ward Two’s Dionne Flowers suggested upping the Schmid exemption to bars totaling 2,000 square feet or less. Flowers says she came up with the standard after hearing that the Board of Aldermen’s meeting room measured 3,000 square feet.

An odd thing is that after making the bar exemption more generous, which on it’s face weakened the bill further, Ald. Flowers went on to vote for the bill.

Atty. Jeff Gershman

Jeff Gershman, spokesman for the Independent Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association of Greater St. Louis, says many barmen are so fearful of losing business that they plan to slash food prices in order to qualify for the exemption.

“Jefferson County, Franklin County, St. Charles County — those guys will be able to offer smoking, but bars in St. Louis County will not,” Gershman says. “Smokers will travel to places where they can smoke. That’s why we suggested the county wait for statewide legislation.”

Fraser, in turn, argues that the region needed to lead by example and that the negative economic effects of smoking bans have been overstated. While casinos and several bar owners across the river in Illinois blame that state’s smoking ban for a downturn in business, accounts from communities on the Missouri side of the Mississippi that have already enacted smoke-free laws seem to back up Fraser.

Ballwin Ald. Jane Suozzi

Ballwin alderwoman Jane Suozzi says that while business has declined slightly since the community adopted a clean-air ordinance in January 2006, Ballwin is faring better than neighboring communities such as Manchester that have no smoke-free laws.

“You really can’t blame any one thing in this economy,” says Suozzi, who notes that the sole exemption to her city’s law was granted to the local VFW hall. “The sales-tax figures show we’re right about where we’ve been the past few years.”

2 responses to “RFT 1/26/10: “When sweeping smoking bans take effect next year, many bar patrons might not even notice the difference”

  1. I believe this is progress in the right direction, not perfect, but definitely better than no legislation.

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