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STOP PRESS: I’ve been advised that while public comments will not be allowed the public may attend this event. It will be at 4 pm today, May 17th, in the conference room adjoining the council chamber, or move to the council chamber itself, depending on how many members of the public attend. The media is expected to cover it.
Address: Administration Building, 41 South Central, Clayton (1st Floor), MO 63105. (Get directions from mapquest.com)
Metered parking opposite and on-street.
One must view this potentially important development with caution, since there are significant differences between politicians in the area on the subject of smoke-free air and government action to promote it. However, it’s a welcome sign of the importance of this public health issue and the recognition by some local politicians of the need for comprehensive action.
BY PAUL HAMPEL • firstname.lastname@example.org > 314-727-6234 and MARK SCHLINKMANN • email@example.com > 636-255-7203 | Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 8:00 am. Comments (139 as of May 11, 2011, 8:41 pm)
Leaders from the city of St. Louis and four counties on the Missouri side of the region have agreed to meet to discuss unifying smoking bans.“What we’re hoping we can do is be more consistent,” said St. Charles County Council Chairman Joe Brazil, who initiated the meeting.
Officials from his county, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis, Franklin and Jefferson counties have agreed to meet on the matter.
The officials are concerned that the spreading patchwork of smoking bans across the region has left some businesses unable to compete with businesses that have received exemptions. “I would like to see us as a region move quickly toward removing all exemptions from the smoking ban,” said Steve Stenger, chairman of the St. Louis County Council. “I think that as we become more sophisticated in our knowledge about the dangers of secondhand smoke we have no choice but to move toward being a county and a region that promotes health.”
Stenger, D-Affton, said he would like to see a regionwide ban similar to those already in effect in Brentwood, Clayton, Creve Coeur, Ballwin, Lake Saint Louis and Kirkwood. They do not allow exemptions for any bars and restaurants.
Stenger said Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer had also agreed to meet on the matter. Jefferson County Council Chairwoman Renee Reuter said she and other officials from her county planned to attend the meeting.
Stenger said he also wanted to remove the exemptions for gambling floors at casinos.
Brazil, a Defiance Republican, said he called for a joint meeting to make it less likely that eating and drinking spots in one area would have an unfair advantage over those in other locales.
Brazil has been an outspoken opponent of a pending council bill setting an August 2012 election on a countywide smoking ban in St. Charles County. The proposal, introduced Monday night, would apply to all restaurants and bars but would exempt the gaming floors at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles.
A nonsmoker himself, Brazil said he was philosophically opposed to taking away the decision from business owners. But he said he’d rather have a common approach regionally than disparate versions of a ban in effect.
“I would prefer nothing, but my point is, if we’re going to do it we should all stick together and do the same thing,” Brazil said.
The sponsor of the St. Charles County bill — Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul — said he supported Brazil’s approach. But he said he would still seek passage of his bill at the council’s next meeting May 31. He said that if a regional deal was worked out later, there would be plenty of time to amend the St. Charles County proposal.
The St. Louis County ban was passed by 65 percent of the voters in November 2009. In the city, the Board of Aldermen had approved a similar measure, contingent on county passage. Lewis Reed, the city’s aldermanic president, said he supported Stenger’s call to remove all exemptions.
However, Reed, a Democrat, said he would like to get the perspective of some of the city’s bar owners who now have exemptions.
“Some establishments spent some money in order to comply with the exemptions, so I’d like to get their input,” Reed said. “But my personal opinion is that we need to move forward and try to remove these exemptions very soon, if not immediately.”
In both the city and the county, establishments can continue to allow smoking if their revenue from food does not exceed 25 percent of their combined food-alcohol revenue. The city has an added requirement: A bar must be no larger than 2,000 square feet. The city ordinance ends all exemptions in 2016; the county does not have such a sunset clause.
As of March, 185 bars in St. Louis had applied for exemptions, with 116 granted, 41 denied and 28 pending.
St. Louis County has granted 150 exemptions. Eight have been denied, and five are pending. In January, St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley blasted the exemptions, calling them “unacceptable.”
“The county executive wants no exemptions,” Dooley’s spokesman, Mac Scott, said Tuesday. “In fact, he’d like to see a smoking ban with no exemptions statewide.”
The city and St. Louis County also exempt gambling floors at casinos.
Stenger said casinos had argued that they would lose business to casinos where smoking was still allowed.
“But if we were to level that playing field, that argument would become moot,” he said.
However, Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, said casinos needed to be concerned with competition in Illinois, where smoking is banned in casinos and in all public places.
“When Illinois went completely smoke-free, people came to our properties at Illinois’ loss,” he said. “If Illinois were to reconsider its smoking ban, that would put our casinos at a disadvantage.”
Pat Lindsey, with the anti-smoking group Tobacco-Free St. Louis, said the current smoking ban was unfair to bars that did not have exemptions.
“Our organization has been conducting surveys of bars, and we are finding that those that do not have exemptions are suffering because they’re losing business to the bars where smoking is still being allowed,” Lindsey said. Bill Hannegan, a longtime opponent of the smoking ban, assailed any effort to strengthen the smoking ban.
“I would hope that if we unify the ban, we do it not in the direction of more strictness but on a more rational basis, such as letting owners of restaurants decide whether they want to allow smoking, but limiting access to those venues to people who are over 18,” Hannegan said. “I do think there’s a basis in reason to limiting smoking around children.”
Stenger said a consensus among the various counties would be key to strengthening the ban in St. Louis County.
If it chose, the County Council could change the ordinance on its own without submitting it to public vote again.
Said Stenger, “I would be optimistic that a bill could be passed without exemptions (in St. Louis County) if all the counties in the region were on the same page with the issue of removing exemptions in their jurisdictions.”
David Hunn of the Post-Dispatch staff contributed to this report.