2011/01/26 P-D: “Ritz-Carlton gets first ticket for violating Clayton’s smoking ordinance”

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.

Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Clayton
MoGASP demo. November 21, 1996

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:
Dan Harbough,
Executive Director,
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

Stephanie Platt,
Corporate Manager,
Public Relations,
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.

St. Louis City and County smoke-free air ordinance links:
         St. Louis City Ordinance 68481
         Saint Louis County web page

Ritz-Carlton gets first ticket for violating Clayton’s smoking ordinance

BY MARGARET GILLERMAN mgillerman@post-dispatch.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.

7 responses to “2011/01/26 P-D: “Ritz-Carlton gets first ticket for violating Clayton’s smoking ordinance”

  1. You could quote me as saying or doing anything since I don’t remember much. I asked a friend the other day when was it that people smoked in Austin. He couldn’t remember it was so long ago. Glad St. Louis has MoGASP as its smokefree gadfly.

  2. Smoking ban exemptions are fairly common,, and an accepted part of society in places which have bans. AK, AR, FL, ID, LA,OK, NV,ND, PA and VA all have exemptions for bars. AK also exempts restaurants with fewer than 50 seats. GA also exempts over age 21 restaurants. OK and VA also exempt separately ventilated sections of restaurants. SD
    also exempts restaurants with liquor licenses. TN exempts over age 21 restaurants.

    Of course, many states also exempt casinos. So smoking ban exemptions are acceptable, and common. I would think Pat Lindsey’s complaint against the Ritz wuld have been valid if she had been in attendance and had not known in advance that smoking would take place. But she is not a self appointed policewoman for all of us. I’m sure the vast majority of the guests at the Ritz cigar smoker ( who were actually exposed to the smoke)would agree with me.
    As far as I know,, no one who was actually at the Ritz that evening,,even in other adjoining nonsmoking areas complained. (994 characters)

    mogasp response: You really don’t know if this indoor air pollution affected any employees or guests at the hotel.
    If this were any other air pollutant than tobacco smoke it would have been removed from indoor environments immediately after the release of the first US Surgeon General’s Report on secondhand smoke (SHS), published in 1986, based on its damning conclusions.
    The Report was followed by official appeals from USSG Dr. C. Everett Koop’s office to 50 of the nation’s largest cities, including St. Louis, to move promptly to protect people from secondhand smoke exposure. The tobacco industry, aided by addicted smokers, abetted by government greedy for tobacco taxes, failed to act. Only now, with the decline in smoking and overwhelming evidence on the hazards of SHS, are we seeing serious efforts to tackle this health problem. (825 characters)

  3. Then why did not Koop nor any other surgeon general issue a nationwide ban on indoor smoking? Why did the EPA or OSHA not issue a nationwide ban on indoor smoking? Why has not one state health dept ever banned indoor smoking? this is how real indoor pollution is always dealt with. (For example,,it would be assinine for voters to issue regulations on asbestos remediation, and limit specifications, or indoor radon problems.) We would expect the EPA, or OSHA, or state health depts to do so. The mechanism for enacting smoking bans always circumvents and differs from ways real health risks are dealt with.

    BUT I know why.. because then these officers would be legally liable for the damage they do. unlike activists and lawmakers, health professionals like surgeon generals and officials at health departments are considered professionals, and would be legally liable if they imposed bans. Activists, and lawmakers however, are not professionals, thus, are not legally liable for the economic and personal freedom damages that smoking bans do.

    mogasp reply: Your statement above appears to be riddled with errors of fact. You might just as well ask why no US Surgeon General has sought to prohibit cigarettes after they first issued reports finding they caused death and disease in smokers. Obviously the USSG doesn’t have that authority. Thanks to Big Tobacco neither does the EPA. OSHA considered rules to govern workplace smoking but the tobacco control community concluded such rules could potentially weaken stronger local laws and objected to them. The rule making proposal was quietly dropped under the Bush admin.
    N.B. Please adhere to the 1,000 character limit. This will be allowed as an exception.

  4. “Ms. Joy Guze wrote expressing concern for hotel guests, adding she hoped employees who develop lung diseases would sue the hotel.”

    I would say that grounds for such a suit based on a once-a-year event would likely be far less than the grounds of any adult ex-boy-scouter who develops emphysema after being forced to sit around campfires singing songs. A few good class-action lawsuits could probably bring the organization to its knees and wipe out future assaults on our children’s lungs. At a mininum it might encourage them to switch over to some of the pretty LED-lit “faux campfire displays” at night.

    Better however if such camping trips were held indoors, as we all know that children will eventually be at risk of developing malignant melanoma from the UV rays reflected in moonlight. How much risk? No one really knows since no safe level has ever been determined, but is *any* risk acceptable when it comes to our children?

    – MJM

    mogasp character count=937

  5. No, we do have national laws banning asbestos, pot smoking, heroine use,, etc.. as these risks are serious, real,,and do rise to the level where bans are necessary. –not so with smoking, nor secondhand smoke. The main point is that they do have the authority. they just have not excersized it in the case of tobacco use, because they would be legally liable for banning something which does not REALLY rise to the risk level where a ban is necessary.
    Also you just said that “IF” OSHA had regulated smoking,,they would have issued less stringent rules. ( that you are opposed to) Why would OSHA issue less stringent rules than local ordinances???? -because the risk is NOT as bad as you and yours , and many non-expert lawmakers think it is. Dave K

  6. mogasp – why did the tobacco control community conclude that OSHA rules would have weakened stronger bans? Clearly OSHA is the only government enitity that could regulate indoor smoking.

    mogasp reply: What I recall now is that Americans for Nonsmokers Rights and others were concerned that OSHA’s workplace rules would preempt stronger local ordinances. You’d have to check with ANR for the details, if anyone there presently even remembers. ASH started the ball rolling, suing OSHA for lack of workplace rules, but later backed off after opposition surfaced from the rest of the tobacco control community.

  7. OSHA was going to require that smoke be present below a certain level, which could be accomplished with ventilation and filtration,, because they felt the “risk” did not rise to the level where only a ban would work. this would have been bad press for those who claim only bans can solve the so-called problem. –and make localities with complete bans look foolish. The fear that OSHA ( actual experts on the subject) would decide that ventilation and filtration were enough is what caused the rest of the tobacco control community to get ASH to back off.

    Establishments could have claimed complete bans were unnecessary they would have had proof if OSHA had set minumum standards,, and then started suing tobacco control groups and localities for economic loss.

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