2010/12/10 P-D Editorial: “Airport, and region, going smoke-free at last”

Ald. Lyda Krewson

The following editorial seems to credit Mayor Francis Slay for this groundbreaking smoke-free air legislation, but really Ald. Lyda Krewson deserves as much, or more of the accolades as sponsor of the bill in the first place, and shepherding it through the City of St. Louis’s tortuous legislative process in 2009, when at times it seemed doomed.

Getting Lambert airport to go smoke-free has been Missouri GASP’s longest-running campaign.

In 1996, for example, Missouri GASP volunteers, dressed in clean room “Smoke-Buster” white coveralls, collected petition signatures at Lambert on several occasions in support of a smoke-free airport and submitted them to St. Louis City Hall. Francis Slay, who was then President of the Board of Aldermen, responded in a July 15, 1996, letter:

“Dear Mr. Pion,

I received the petitions that you delivered to the Board of Aldermen on Friday July, 12, 1996. Thank you for bringing them to me. As a member of the Airport Commission, I will see that the Commission receives the petitions at our next meeting. As you indicated in the enclosed material, the Airport administration is considering actions that will hopefully address some of your organization’s concerns to make the Airport more accommodating to users who suffer discomfort from the current designated “Smoking Area” locations at the Airport.

I realize that these actions may not be as far reaching as your organization would like, but I would hope that any action to assist those who suffer from this problem would be something that would be considered an improvement.”

This reply was received following an announcement that the airport was planning to install smoking rooms over Missouri GASP’s objections, instead of going totally smoke-free. It was also after we had filed an ADA discrimination complaint with the federal Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights on behalf of two smoke-sensitive individuals, and met with then Airport Director, Leonard Griggs Jr. in December, 1994. At that meeting he had told me that the airport was thinking of either going smoke-free, which he said was his preference, or installing smoking rooms. Eventually, over our strenuous objections and warning on technical grounds that they wouldn’t work, the airport installed the smoking rooms in early 1996 at a reported cost of nearly half a million dollars.

After the smoking rooms were installed Missouri GASP conducted a nicotine monitor test near one of them with the help of a TWA gate agent, and had the test independently repeated several years later. Both tests showed that the Lambert airport smoking room was ineffective at containing secondhand smoke. The results were subsequently published in a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Tobacco Control, titled “Airport smoking rooms don’t work.”

Despite repeated attempts over the years to meet with Francis Slay to discuss smoking in Lambert airport, both when he was President of the Board of Aldermen and later when he was elected Mayor, Missouri GASP was repeatedly rebuffed. Such behavior by an elected official is hard to understand or forgive.

Charles Gatton, County Citizens for Cleaner Air

By the way, we shouldn’t forget the critical work of other area legislators in making this happen, starting with the first comprehensive smoke-free air ordinance in the metro area, enacted in the City of Ballwin, effective in 2006, thanks to the bill’s sponsor, Ald. Charles “Charley” Gatton.

That laid the groundwork for a similar bill introduced by the Mayor of Clayton, Linda Goldstein, in 2009 which went into effect in July of that year.

Mayor Linda Goldstein

A critical restriction added to Ald. Lyda Krewson’s St. Louis City ordinance was that it would only go into effect if and when the County enacted a similar ordinance.

Barbara Fraser (D)<BR>St. Louis County Councillor

Councilwoman Barbara Fraser introduced a similar bill in the county which was approved but the county council added a rider punting it to voters as Proposition N. It was finally only decided after Prop N was approved by a resounding majority in the November elections of 2009. Charley Gatton took a leading role in the effort to approve Prop N, being co-chair of the County Citizens for Cleaner Air committee, together with former Ballwin Alderman, Jane Suozzi.

Airport, and region, going smoke-free at last

By The Editorial Board | Comments | Posted: Thursday, December 9, 2010 9:00 pm

This photo by Laurie Skrivan originally accompanied a May 16, 2003, Post-Dispatch story by reporter Doug Moore titled: Lambert is removed from smoking ban. Alderman (Bosley Sr) changes his bill after viewing video on filtering system

In a single stroke this week, Mayor Francis Slay undid the work of generations of tobacco industry lobbyists and executives. He announced that Lambert-St. Louis International Airport will go smoke-free.

Beginning on Jan. 2, five glass-enclosed smoking lounges at the airport, built in response to behind-the-scenes pressure from the tobacco industry, will be closed.

That same day, smoking no longer will be allowed in most public places in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The vast majority of citizens who do not smoke finally will gain the right to breathe clean indoor air.

Just by coincidence, Mr. Slay’s announcement came the same day U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin released a new tobacco report, the 30th such surgeon general’s report since 1964.

“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” it reads in part. “Any exposure to tobacco smoke — even an occasional cigarette or exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke — is harmful.”

The report details the pathology of tobacco-related disease, noting that chemicals in tobacco smoke damage DNA and cause nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in this country.
It quotes from the abundant scientific literature on how even low-level exposure causes “a rapid and sharp increase” in inflammation of the lining of blood vessels, which is linked to heart attack and stroke.

“Cigarettes were designed for addiction,” the report says. No change in their design over the past 50 years — not filters, “low-tar” formulations or the marketing of so-called light cigarettes — has reduced the damage they do.

Expect to hear howls of protest about the new clean indoor air rules from smokers and tobacco industry apologists.
They’re operating from a playbook first crafted decades ago.
As far back as the early 1950s, the industry developed a public relations strategy to cast doubt on scientific research by creating “uncertainty” about the findings.

After state governments successfully sued big tobacco companies in 1998, thousands of industry documents subpoenaed as part of the suit were publicly released.

Among them is a 1992 memo entitled “Airport Strategy Plan” that spells out a national campaign to “encourage the accommodation of smokers.” Among the targets: Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, then a national hub for TWA.

The records show tobacco industry groups sent lobbyists to the St. Louis County Council in 1993 to weaken proposals that would have banned smoking in the airport. Lobbyists even “prepared some language” for a compromise measure, according to one memo.

Tobacco industry groups also unleashed supposedly independent “scientific experts” who extolled the virtues of ventilation systems to purge tobacco smoke from terminal lounges. That system eventually was adopted at the airport.
Next month, it finally will be dismantled. The region’s smoke-free air laws are a long-overdue acknowledgement of the dangers of tobacco.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths among nonsmokers in this country every year.

But Mr. Slay also told David Hunn of the Post-Dispatch that he’s concerned about the city’s reputation. “The image we want to project is a city that is progressive and health conscious,” he said.

More than three-quarters of the nation’s large hub airports no longer permit smoking inside terminal buildings. Early next month, Lambert-St. Louis will join them.

The vast majority of airline travelers who are nonsmokers will breathe easier because of it.

3 responses to “2010/12/10 P-D Editorial: “Airport, and region, going smoke-free at last”

  1. Two of the politicians pictured here as well as former County Councilman Kurt Odenwald paid a heavy price for having joined MOGASP’s smoking ban crusade while ignoring the pleas of St. Louis small businesses. I hope MOGASP has some sort of financial program in place to help these businesses weather the upcoming transition.

    • In reality, Kurt Odenwald, a Republican and formerly the strongest champion of smoke-free air legislation in St. Louis, lost to Barbara Fraser during a shift to Democrats, and she succeeded in doing what Odenwald had failed to do: pass comprehensive county-wide smoke-free air legislation. Former Alderman Charley Gatton said he doesn’t have any regrets for his success with Ballwin’s smoke-free air ordinance and is proud of his achievement regarding the St. Louis County ordinance.

  2. Barbara Fraser promised the Missouri Restaurant Association she would not bring up a smoking ban. She won support based on a promise that was not kept. I am glad for her return to private life.

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