2011/01/16 P-D: “Smoking exemptions assailed”

The above headline in the print version of today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch on page B1 of the Community section was changed to Woman heading anti-smoking effort finds fault with County Council in the on-line version.

No matter. It underscores some exasperation expressed by Pat Lindsey with local tobacco control efforts.

Pat has been a strong and effective advocate for smoke-free air and tobacco cessation efforts for many years locally, going back to the ASSIST (American Stop Smoking Intervention Study) program and including underage sting operations on stores selling cigarettes illegally to children. She is currently Executive Director of Tobacco-Free St. Louis, Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

The latest effort should further help to expand secondhand smoke protections for employees in cities in North St. Louis County, as well as elsewhere.

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Woman heading anti-smoking effort finds fault with County Council

BY PAUL HAMPEL • phampel@post-dispatch.com > 314-727-6234 | (39) Comments | Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011 12:00 am

January 13, 2011--- Pat Lindsey, director of Tobacco-Free St. Louis, poses in her office. Emily Rasinski erasinski@post-dispatch.com

Smoking ban begins to clear air in St. Louis city, county
Smoking still allowed in Missouri’s legislative offices
Area colleges extend smoking ban to entire campus
O’Fallon, Mo., smoking ban set for April 5 ballot
County admits mistake in smoke ban exemptions
St. Louis County casino lounges get smoking ban exemptions
CLAYTON • Last year, when St. Louis County divvied up $7.6 million of a federal stimulus grant to help end smoking, it gave $500,000 to Tobacco-Free St. Louis.
         The county set two goals for the group and its leader, Pat Lindsey, to accomplish over the course of the two-year project.
         The first was to persuade at least two additional municipalities to adopt smoking bans more restrictive than the county’s.
         The other was to persuade the County Council to extend its smoking ban to all workplaces, restaurants and bars by 2012.
         Since then, two additional municipalities – Brentwood and Creve Coeur – have joined Ballwin, Clayton and Kirkwood in establishing anti-smoking ordinances stricter than the county’s.
         But Lindsey said the second mandate became a tougher task after the County Council’s recent 4-2 vote to grant two lounges in Harrah’s casino in Maryland Heights an exemption from the new smoking ban.
         The casino bars had asserted they met the exemption requirements as venues with food sales that were less than 25 percent of their total revenue.
         “I feel like the county itself has become my biggest obstacle in fulfilling our goals,” said Lindsey, 61. “We’re supposed to be tightening up the ordinance, and the County Council is adding exemptions to it. That (exemption) just flies in the face of the intent of the exemptions, which were intended to protect those little hole-in-the-wall bars that sell beef jerky and beer nuts, not lounges at big casinos.”
         Immediately after the council’s vote on the casino exemption, Lindsey said she complained to County Executive Charlie A. Dooley.
         “I cornered him in the council chambers, and Dooley told me, ‘It will all work out.’ And then he pointed at the council and said, ‘We never wanted the casinos included in that ban anyway.’ And I told him, ‘It isn’t what you want. It’s what the people want. And an overwhelming majority – over 65 percent – voted to ban smoking.”
         Dooley disputed Lindsey’s account of their conversation. “What I communicated to her was that I did not vote on this legislation. It was a decision of the County Council,” he said.
         Dooley said that he supported the smoking ban because “it was the will of the county voters.”
         The smoking ban that voters passed in 2009 had built-in exemptions for the gambling floors at Harrah’s and at the county’s other gambling venue, River City Casino in Lemay. That exemption had been added so that county casinos would not lose business to Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, where smoking is allowed. Harrah’s needed special county legislation for its lounges because Harrah’s liquor license was issued by the Missouri Gaming Commission. The county’s original ordinance said that only bars licensed by the county would qualify for exemptions.
         River City Casino has two areas on the casino floor that serve only liquor. They already are exempt because they are on the casino’s gambling floor.
         That’s the rule in the city of St. Louis, where smokers can light up in all or parts of four of the eight bars and restaurants at Lumière Place downtown, said casino spokesman Mack Bradley. He said the city’s ordinance allows smoking on the casino floor and in sections of bars extending onto that floor.
         Thus, three bars have smoking and nonsmoking sections, he said. The city also allows smoking in Lumière’s VIP lounge, reached only from the gambling floor by casino card holders, Bradley said. Four Lumière bars are smoke-free, he said.
         County Council Chairman Steve Stenger, who voted with the majority in approving the exemption for Harrah’s, said the vote should not be construed as a sign that the council intended to obstruct Lindsey’s goal of strengthening the smoking ban.
         “The result of that vote was simply that bars in casinos wound up being on the same playing field as anyone else who qualified for an exemption,” he said.
         For her part, Lindsey acknowledged being hesitant to criticize county leadership. “I’m in a kind of tough spot because they are paying my salary,” she said. “But I have to think of the greater good.” Lindsey’s annual salary is about $61,000. She oversees a staff of four, two of whom are paid $45,000 a year, another $40,000, and another $13 an hour.
         The grant for the project runs out in March 2012.

‘We Will Win’
         Lindsey lives with her husband of 40 years in Black Jack; they have two grown children.
Lindsey was a former middle-school teacher in the Hazelwood School District who took a job with the American Cancer Society in 1988. She left that organization to join the nonprofit group Tobacco-Free St. Louis (then called Tobacco-Free Missouri, Greater St. Louis) in 1993.
         For years, she said, conventional wisdom dictated that anti-smoking bans were best accomplished by persuading area leaders to enact ordinances.
         “We were told never to go for a ballot initiative because the tobacco industry had too much money to throw around and they’d use it to influence voters,” she said.
         But after years of trying to work with local leaders, Lindsey’s group took a cue from counterparts in other areas of the country and began working to put smoking bans on the ballot.
         “Now we know that people are overwhelmingly against smoking and if we can get the issue on a ballot, we will win,”she said.
         Bill Hannegan, a leading critic of smoking bans, acknowledged Lindsey’s tenacity. But he said her group overreaches in seeking to strengthen a ban that he said already goes too far.
         “I like Pat a lot; she’s a very sweet lady. But her group’s brand of institutionalized opposition – in which they keep pushing no matter what, and are never satisfied that they’ve got enough – it takes a toll on private individuals and small businesses,” he said.
         Hannegan has been resisting smoking restrictions for about six years. He conceded that Lindsey was beginning to take a toll on him, as well.
         “You can only fight this battle for so long,” he said. “People run out of money. But she has an ongoing source of funds and is always going to be pushing for a new restriction. And we don’t need any more restrictions.”
         Lindsey said her group will next try to persuade Hazelwood, Ferguson and Maplewood to adopt smoking bans more restrictive than the county’s.
         She said she will also try to persuade the County Council to set a sunset clause for 2016 for all smoking exemptions. The city of St. Louis already has such a clause in place for that year, meaning that bars with exemptions will become smoke-free at that time.
         As of last week, the county had granted 111 such exemptions.
         Stenger, with the County Council, said he was inclined to favor such a clause.
         “All smoking exemptions phased out in 2016? I would say that sounds as of right now, without having advantage of seeing an economic study on the issue, something I would lean toward,” he said.
         Dooley declined to say whether he would support such a move. “We’re still in the early phases of this ban, and I think we need to see how it works out.”
         He added, “I do hope in five years that the entire state is smoke-free.”

Tim O’Neil of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

One response to “2011/01/16 P-D: “Smoking exemptions assailed”

  1. Wow! I was under the assumption that bribery was illegal! Bribery: The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties. These grants are just that and they are meant to steal the rights of American citizens of their personal and private property rights. Isn’t it time that our elected officials from the city level to the federal level be indicted for bribery and thrown in prison along with the grant makers?

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