Missouri GASP has organized at least two protest demonstrations outside the swanky Ritz-Carlton hotel in Clayton, initially to protest its first Cigar Smoker event in 1993, and another protest in 1996, described below. During the first demonstration a guest emerged from the hotel and said she had complained to management about the cigar smoke migrating out of the cigar bar to the rest of the hotel, to no avail. A female Post-Dispatch reporter covering the event asked for the guest’s name, and when she declined, instead of including this comment in her report it was simply ignored.
A press release after the second MoGASP protest is appended below followed by the recent Post-Dispatch story by reporter Margaret Gillerman of the Ritz-Carlton being fined for violating Clayton’s 2009 strong smoke-free air law.
RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL “CIGAR SMOKER” GETS VISIT FROM SMOKEBUSTERS
When the swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Clayton, Missouri, decided to host its second black-tie “Cigar Smoker” in three years on November 21, the same day as the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, Missouri GASP thought it was time to mount a competing “Cigar Smokeout” outside as guests were arriving. GASP also contacted the hotel headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The hotel received a number of written complaints about the event. The Ronald McDonald House, chosen by the Ritz-Carlton to receive some of the proceeds, was asked by GASP to refuse any money raised from the Cigar Smoker. KMOX radio covered GASP’s protest, but the rest of the media were absent.SmokeBusters at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s black-tie “Cigar Smoker” posing outside the hotel at the end of their protest.
This was the first time, to Missouri GASP’s knowledge, that any pro-health grass roots group had staged a protest against the increasingly popular Cigar Smokers being promoted around the country. Despite the chilly evening, GASP members and supporters, clad in the now-familiar “SmokeBuster” decontamination suits and masks, gathered outside the hotel on November 21, 1996, as guests were starting to arrive.
They displayed protest signs with such slogans as “Cigar Smoke Pollution is RISKY not RITZY!” and “Cigar Smoke: The Gift That Keeps on Gagging!” The response from guests was mixed, as expected, some giving thumbs up signs and others being abusive. Local TV, radio and print media were contacted, but only KMOX radio, who said they “wouldn’t miss it for the world,” came to cover the event. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch once more responded to our invitation that “we don’t normally cover protests,” and the major TV news programs either said they had no staff available [Channel 2 (ABC) and Channel 30 (Fox)], might come but didn’t [Channel 4 (CBS)] or, in the case of Channel 5 News (NBC), that they had already done an anti-smoking story that day.
In a prepared media handout GASP listed its objections as exposing non-smoking hotel patrons and employees to recirculated cigar smoke; denying access to breathing disabled smoke sensitive individuals, in alleged violation of federal law; and sending an “in-your-face” message about smoking and smoke pollution on the very day the Great American Smokeout was aimed at “preventing kids from smoking by involving them in smoke-free activities,” according to an American Cancer Society handout.
In addition, we argued that for the Ritz-Carlton to say in its promotional material that it was donating part of the proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House was hypocritical, given that kids are a primary target of the tobacco industry.
GASP asked the Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House, Dan Harbough, to refuse the donation on the grounds that making money from an event related to nicotine and tobacco smoke pollution cannot be reconciled with its mission of helping children. We subsequently learned that the Board of Directors had refused our request. When questioned about this decision Mr. Harbough said the Board “were not going to stand in the way of the Ritz-Carlton benefiting Ronald MacDonald House.”
• ACTION ITEM: Please write/call:
Ronald McDonald House,
4381 West Pine,
St. Louis, MO 63108.
tel: 314 773 1100 x13 fax: 773 2053
and express your opposition to this action by the Board.
GASP members also wrote letters to the Ritz-Carlton criticizing their Cigar Smoker, and a few received replies. Kim Mosley, a photography professor at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, wrote asking “what about those guests who are especially sensitive to cigar smoke? Will you find them other accommodations? Will you have the carpet cleaned after the event?” Patricia Presti, elected to the Special School District Board earlier this year, wrote asking “What do your evenings celebrating cigar smoking say to children?” Airline pilot Schuyler Shipley wrote that “The Ritz-Carlton should reconsider its policy on this matter,” adding that he would not patronize them until they did. Hans Levi, a professor at Lindenwood College, wrote: “If you desist from having these [Cigar] Smokers, you will be performing a noble public service.”
Ms. Joy Guze wrote expressing concern for hotel guests, adding she hoped employees who develop lung diseases would sue the hotel. She received a response from Tom Manno, General Manager, saying that the head office had informed all 33 Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts worldwide of future dates of the Great American Smokeout to avoid similar conflicts. He concluded: “… no other guests will come in contact with cigar smoke the evening of the event, nor will they smell the smoke the next day. In addition, employees [sic] benefits include complimentary laundering of uniforms by the hotel.”
One is tempted to ask: does this extend to complimentary laundering of employees’ lungs?
• ACTION ITEM: Please write/call:
Tom Manno, General Manager,
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel St. Louis,
100 Carondelet Plaza,
St. Louis, MO 63105.
tel: 314 863 6300 fax: 863 3525
Ritz-Carlton Hotel Head Office,
Atlanta, GA. [incomplete address available at present]
tel: 404 237 5500 fax: 261 7116
and ask them to stop hosting “Cigar Smokers” and instead consider going entirely smoke-free.
GASP has drawn up the following objectives:
* For all charitable organizations to refuse donations generated by “Cigar Smokers”
* For all organizations etc. in health-related fields to boycott the Ritz-Carlton until it stops hosting “Cigar Smokers”
* For the Ritz-Carlton instead to set a healthy example in the other direction by becoming the first totally smoke free hotel in St. Louis.
BY MARGARET GILLERMAN email@example.com > 314-725-6758 | Comments (132) | Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 12:15 am
CLAYTON • The Ritz-Carlton St. Louis has received the first citation for violating Clayton’s 7-month-old smoking ban — for allowing guests at the annual Cigar Club formal party Saturday night to light up.
A Clayton police officer handed the ticket to Ritz general manager Patrick Franssen that night, and Police Chief Thomas Byrne also dropped by the hotel.
Byrne said Franssen said the hotel’s attorneys believed it had not violated the ordinance, specifically noting a section of the law allowing a hotel to exempt 20 percent of its rooms. The lawyer, Byrne said, considered the ballroom to be one of those rooms.
Ritz management did not return phone calls Tuesday asking for comment.
The Ritz has an exemption for a lounge where the Cigar Club regularly meets. But the Saturday night event was in the hotel ballroom.
Apparently, Byrne said, “they couldn’t fit the 400 people at the party in the cigar bar,” he said.
The penalties for violating Clayton’s ordinance is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. Franssen was given a Feb. 16 date in municipal court to answer the charges.
Clayton’s ordinance was enacted in July. The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County enacted anti-smoking ordinances on Jan. 2; Clayton’s is more restrictive than the city’s or county’s.
Mayor Linda Goldstein said Tuesday that the city’s aldermen might tighten the ordinance’s language.
“We have 99.9 percent compliance, and we have great feedback from our hotels and our restaurants and our businesses,” Goldstein said. “Pretty much everybody is happy. But there’s always that 0.1 percent that could misunderstand the intent of the ordinance, so we’ll go back and look at the language.”
She said that the Ritz management ‘seems very apologetic and I do think it was a misunderstanding.”
She added: “There are no hard feelings.”
Byrne said he got a call about the event Saturday night from Pat Lindsey, an anti-smoking activist and executive director of Tobacco-Free St. Louis.
The party offered boxing for entertainment, in a ring in the chandeliered ballroom, and was attended by men in tuxedos and women in formal attire.
That night a hotel manager told a reporter that the event complied with Clayton’s ordinance.
“This is a private event in an enclosed private room for our guests,” the manager said.
DOOLEY URGES COUNTY CHANGES
County Executive Charlie Dooley told the County Council on Tuesday that the county’s ordinance had produced “unexpected results.”
“Some people are getting (exemptions) that we thought would not be getting them,” he said. “We would like to work with you in the future to see if we can tighten some things up.”
In writing the ordinance, County Council members said they wanted exemptions to protect small bars whose owners feared a smoking ban would hurt their business.
But larger restaurant-bars have been among the 110 establishments that have received exemptions.
Dooley told the council that one potential adjustment would be to consider a bar’s square footage. Such a requirement exists in the city of St. Louis, where bars larger than 2,000 square feet are not eligible for exemptions.
After the meeting, Council Chairman Steve Stenger said he would welcome any legislation on the issue from Dooley.
“This is an excellent first step,” Stenger said. He said he would consider removing all exemptions, even those for casinos. The casinos had exemptions for their gambling floors that were built in to the ban that was passed by 65 percent of the voters in 2009.
“All options should be on the table,” he said.
At the council’s public forum, James Mays, owner of the Redbirds Sports Cafe in Hazelwood, urged officials to give the smoking ban time to work before changing it. Mays did not suggest the length of any delay. His business has a pending request for an exemption. Bill Hannegan, an activist opposing smoking bans, urged a six-month delay.
Former Ballwin Alderman Jane Suozzi said her city had avoided problems with exemptions from a smoking ban because it had only one — for a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.
In Brentwood, Alderman Andrew Leahy said he would ask aldermen at their Feb. 7 meeting to grant an exemption to that city’s smoking ban to Goff Moll Post 101 of the American Legion, 2721 Collier Avenue. The post requested the exemption, Leahy said.
Paul Hampel and Phil Sutin of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.