Monthly Archives: September 2011

2011-09-19 P-D: “Airtight smoking ban proves elusive in St. Louis County”

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Barbara Fraser

Former St. Louis County Councilwoman, Barbara Fraser, deserves credit for persisting in her efforts to remove the present loopholes in the county’s smoke-free air law, which went into effect January 2, 2011. If the law is justified, as it is, it should apply across the board and not leave some employees, as well as members of the public, unprotected.

This isn’t a matter of “property rights,” as some argue. Places of business open to the public or operating as places of employment should be free of known health hazards: removing them is a primary duty of elected officials.

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Airtight smoking ban proves elusive in St. Louis County

BY PAUL HAMPEL • phampel@post-dispatch.com > 314-727-6234 | Posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 7:01 am | Comments (148 as of September 19, 2011, 4:17 pm)

Marty Ginsburg on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011.
Photo by J.B. Forbes jforbes@post-dispatch.com



Marty Ginsburg, owner of the Sports Page Bar and Grill in Chesterfield, sets televisions to show various football games on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011. Ginsburg said that his health has improved since a smoking ban took effect in January. “All this time I thought it was my adenoids acting up,” said Ginsburg.

CLAYTON • When a summer offensive by Tobacco Free St. Louis to end smoking ban exemptions in St. Louis County failed, the group’s leader took her complaints to the federal level.
          

For several consecutive weeks over the summer, Barbara Fraser had brought bar and restaurant owners to Clayton to speak at the regular meetings of the County Council — the same council that Fraser had belonged to when she helped to craft the smoking ban that took effect in January.
Fraser and her allies told council members that smoking ban exemptions that had been granted to nearby establishments were hurting their businesses, which were abiding by the ban.
          

”We showed the council that the smoking ban is overwhelmingly popular in every single voting district,” Fraser said last week. “We showed the council that the air is cleaner and healthier. We presented testimony from bar owners who had been against the ban but who are now in favor of it.
          

”The only piece that was left was for the council to step up for the greater good of the St. Louis community and remove the exemptions.”
          

Those arguments appeared to have little effect on the council, which took no action toward eliminating the 145 exemptions.
          

Now, smoking ban proponents vow to continue to push for ending exemptions, while council leaders say they’re not necessarily opposed — they just want time to do it gradually.
          

Fraser said frustration drove her last month to call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the agency that last year gave St. Louis County a $7.6 million federal stimulus grant to help end smoking. She spoke with Ron Todd, the CDC’s grant liaison to the county.
          

”One of the county’s stated goals in accepting the grant from the CDC was to eliminate the exemptions by 2012,” Fraser said.
          

Persuading the County Council to end the exemptions is also one of the stated goals of Tobacco Free St. Louis, which is located on the campus of St. Louis University. When the county distributed money from the grant, it gave $545,000 to the university, which was to direct the money toward Fraser’s group.
          

In the county and in St. Louis, establishments can continue to allow smoking if their revenue from food does not exceed 25 percent of their combined food and alcohol revenue.
          

The city’s ordinance ends all exemptions in 2016; the county does not have such a sunset clause.
          

Council Chairman Steve Stenger, D-south St. Louis County, said that, while there is no pending legislation to remove the exemptions, “that date is on the horizon.”
          

”We need to step back and realize that we have only been under the current smoking ban for not even nine months yet,” he said. “Removing exemptions is a position I support. But we have to discuss and debate this as a council. The representatives want to gather input from their districts. We may not be meeting Ms. Fraser’s timeline, but this is not something that can be rushed.”
          

Stenger declined to offer odds on whether the council would meet the CDC’s goal of removing the exemptions by 2012. “But I would say there’s a realistic chance it will happen before the end of 2012,” he said.
          

Mac Scott, a spokesman for County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, said Dooley also favored removing the exemptions. “But he’s leaving that decision in (the County Council’s) court,” Scott said.

FEDERAL MONITORING

St. Louis County was among 50 areas in the country that were beneficiaries of anti-smoking grants from the CDC.
          

Becky Payne, director of the agency’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work Program, said her group has actively monitored the grant.
          

”We have extremely tight and regular contact with the county,” Payne said last week.
          

She described the county health department as among the ‘strongest programs” participating in the agency’s national anti-smoking movement.
          

Payne noted that one of the goals the agency had set last year was that the county persuade at least two additional municipalities to adopt smoking bans more restrictive than the county’s.
          

”And that was accomplished when Brentwood and Creve Coeur passed their smoke-free ordinances earlier this year,” Payne said.
          

As for the other goal of removing exemptions by 2012, Payne said that was beyond the county health department’s purview.
          

”We give the money to the public health department to help them fulfill their goal of education about the effects and harms of tobacco use. In that respect, they’re meeting their objectives. They are not the ones ultimately responsible for passing an ordinance,” she said.
          

While Fraser’s group works to snuff out indoor smoking in public places, Bill Hannegan, a longtime opponent of the smoking ban, wants exemptions expanded.
          

”I would like to see a hardship exemption added for those businesses that have been hurt by the smoking ban,” Hannegan said. “If a business can prove that their revenue is down 10 percent versus the previous year, they would be given a waiver from the smoking ban.”

SWITCHING SIDES

Marty Ginsburg, owner of the Sports Page restaurant in Chesterfield, was once on the same side of the smoking debate as Hannegan.
          

Ginsburg was one of the most vociferous opponents of the smoking ban before it was passed, showing up at County Council hearings, where he denounced the idea and those in favor of it.
          

But not long after the Sports Page was forced to go smoke-free — its ratio of food-to-alcohol was too high to qualify for an exemption — Ginsburg said his life took a remarkable turn.
          

After years of tossing and turning in his bed at night, a problem he attributed to acid reflux disease, he began sleeping deeply and soundly for the first time in memory.
          

”Even though I’m not a smoker, I was getting so much secondhand smoke that it was ruining my sleep,” Ginsburg said. “Since there’s been no smoke in my place of business, I’m sleeping soundly.”
          

Ginsburg now calls himself “a convert” to the anti-smoking side. He has joined Fraser in appealing to the County Council to repeal exemptions.
          

”If the smoking ban was supposed to be about health in the first place, then there shouldn’t be exemptions,” he said. “The way things stand now, it’s not a level playing field. It’s not fair that my business should suffer because I’m following the law.”

EXEMPTION SUPPORTERS

          

Among the county’s 145 exempt establishments is Watson’s Bar & Grill in Marlborough, where Rich Fultz enjoyed a cigarette and a beer on Saturday afternoon. Fultz, 63, said he opposes any effort to remove exemptions.
          

”I want to keep smoking,” said Fultz, 63. “This is my constitutional right. If I want to smoke, it’s my business.”
          

The tavern, at 7940 Watson Road, had about a half-dozen customers Saturday afternoon as the bar’s TVs showed college football games. Cigarette smoke hung in the air.
          

”If you don’t want to smoke, don’t come in here,” Fultz said.
          

At Crestwood Bowl, 9822 Watson in Crestwood, manager Barry Roehrs said ending exemptions would be unfair to businesses that bought equipment to contain cigarette smoke to designated areas. The bowling alley’s separate bar for smokers has a special ventilation system to prevent smoke from reaching the rest of the establishment.
          

”Our position is that we’ve got the exemption, and we had to spend a large amount of money to keep smoke out of the bowling area itself,” Roehrs said.

Tim Bryant of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.