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.

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

  1. You are incorrect in your assessment that this is not a property rights issue. It is being argued in the Ohio Supreme Court as we speek. The lawyers fighting for property rings submitted a brief elliquently bringing up many of the arguments brought up on your blog.
    http://veritasvincitprolibertate.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/things-are-smoking-in-ohio/

    You once argued that it was innapropriate for the courts to decide sccience. At least the courts must adhere to strict rulles and standards. It is less appropriate for it to be decieded by politicians who are not bound by such standards but bound by special interests and lobbiests. To quote Ronald Reagan “”The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

    Given the choice of Freedom of Choice and Nanny Statism, I choose freedom as this 63 year old cartoon points out

    Marshall P Keith

  2. Frasier certainly has had some interesting comments. 
”We showed the council that the smoking ban is overwhelmingly popular in every single voting district,”. Yes you did with a survey done by a group that you paid that advertises it will get the results you want on its website. I think the only issue is why you could’t get better results.
    “We showed the council that the air is cleaner and healthier.” You did? Was there a study. “We presented testimony from bar owners who had been against the ban but who are now in favor of it.” You presented testimony from restaurant owners with bars that have been hurt by the ban. People who are losing their their business, savings and years of work because of you. You told them that a ban would be good for business. I can’t figure out why they would listen to you since you were wrong before. Thats probably why only 5 or 6 out of hundreds have testified.

    mogasp comment: I assume when you refer to “you” above that you mean Barbara Fraser, speaking on behalf of Tobacco Free St. Louis, and not MoGASP.

    I’m sure that smoke-free air is supported by a significant majority of voters, regardless of any disputed poll. But promoting public health shouldn’t be a popularity contest, in any case.
    I don’t see how you can argue that an environment from which secondhand smoke has been removed is not “cleaner and healthier.” That seems an absurd claim to me. Ask any smoke-sensitive asthmatic if they disagree on that one. Indeed, ask any person who is smoke-sensitive, like me!
    You aren’t going to get hundreds of restaurant and bar owners testifying on either side of this issue. The fact that one of the most vocal opponents now supports a uniform approach with no exemptions is significant. But even more relevant is his comment that his own health has improved as a result.
    That’s what this is all about: public health and welfare.

    character count = 954

  3. In this one post you manage to expose the deceptive practices by the anti-smoking forces. In one statement:

    ”We showed the council that the smoking ban is overwhelmingly popular in every single voting district,”
    And they even have manufactured economic studies that measure everything but the profit and loss of the actual businesses.

    Then in the next breath they say:

    “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.”

    So the bans are so immensely popular that people are flocking to the smoke free environment right? It is the exempted establishments that are clamoring for a level playing field right?

    Marshall P Keith

  4. MoGasp you said:
    “But even more relevant is his comment that his own health has improved as a result. That’s what this is all about: public health and welfare.”

    Other then the fake heart attack studies, states that have enacted bans have not proven any health benefits. I again refer to the 1975 Minnesota indoor clean air act. No proven health benefits have resulted from that and that was over 35 years ago. And again I refer to the case being heard in Ohio. From the brief:

    “the type experienced by bar patrons and employees – do not causes
    increased health risks 57 This is reflected in the fact that workers’ compensation premiums have not decreased since the ban was implemented;58 and only one claim for secondhand smoke related occupational disease has ever been filed: it was denied”
    http://veritasvincitprolibertate.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/things-are-smoking-in-ohio/

    Marshall P Keith

    mogasp reply: I based my comments in support of smoke-free air on personal experience. It’s not rocket science.

  5. If a business owner, for whatever reason, whether health or other, decides that a smoking ban is good for him, then let him stay smoke free. It does, however, appear that the smoking ban is not good for some businesses, and it is confusing to me, why are non smoking businesses wanting for force others to be smoke free? The ones who chose to allow smoking are supposed to be empty since we have been told that no one wants to go to those places. There are alot more smoke free places then there are smoking allowed. Why is the ashmatic forced to go to a place he doesn’t like? He isn’t. He chooses to go, or to work, in that atmosphere.

    mogasp comment: “Public health and welfare” shouldn’t be an option.

  6. The REAL problem is government officials ENACTING legislation against people! Of COURSE anti-smokers influence government to favor huge tax increases foisted on another segment of the population! It’s a form of legal BULLYING! Of COURSE anti-smokers influence on government and don’t care that business owners lose their private property rights for their own preference, it’s another form of legal bullying! Of COURSE, they’re BULLIES! All that taxpayer money poured into tobacco control unwittingly by the people by government officials could be spent on roads, schools, and the elderly instead of forced behavior modification. Did you know that legislators are scored based on the anti tobacco bills they introduce, support & pass. Their scores are tallied at the end of session and their campaign contributions from the anti’s groups and pharma are based on their score. they tried to close down smoking in smoke shops, to increase the cigarette and other tobacco products taxes and always, ban smoking on public streets and parks. It never ends.

    mogasp comment: character count = 1,050 after editing by mogasp. Original was 1,581.

  7. Health and welfare is always an option. As I have frequently pointed out cooking fumes by foodstaff workers is a greater risk, Ms Fraser’s numbers bear that out as she has stated they have a 50% higher ling cancer rate then the general population as opposed to 20% living with a smoker. Of course if you read Epidemiology Faces its Limits you would know that these low JR’s prove nothing. So you are correct, it is not rocket science’ it is voodo science based .on the questionable methodology of meta-analysis.
    Marshall P Keith

    mogasp comment: You state that “Health and welfare is an option.” I believe it’s a right and something we should expect. That is a fundamental difference.

  8. The REAL problem is government officials ENACTING legislation against people! Of COURSE anti-smokers influence government to favor control of another segment of the population! It’s a form of legal BULLYING! All that taxpayer money poured into tobacco control unwittingly by the people by government officials could be spent on roads, schools, and the elderly instead of forced behavior modification. Legislators are scored based on the anti tobacco bills they introduce, support and pass. Their scores are tallied at the end of session and their campaign contributions from the anti’s groups and pharma are based on their score. Anti’s are in a tight spot as the state budgets continue to fall. The politicians have been bought off and they don’t care if all small businesses go out of business, so long as they get their campaign contributions. The state lawmakers don’t write the bills, special interest writes them.The founding fathers are rolling over in their graves!

    mogasp note: The above is 976 characters, edited down by Marlene from an original 1,589 submission, as requested. Thanks, Marlene!

  9. Your comment “mogasp comment: You state that “Health and welfare is an option.” I believe it’s a right and something we should expect. That is a fundamental difference.” Is entirely true. You being from Europe have a different philosophy concerning rights and the role of government then those espoused by our founding fathers and that of our Constitution. To pick apart the differences would take longer then 1000 characters so I responded on my blog.
    http://peoplesrepubmadison.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/smoking-ban-rights-libertarian-vs-collectivist/

    Marshall P Keith

  10. Martin

    You state that “You state that “Health and welfare is an option.” I believe it’s a right and something we should expect. That is a fundamental difference.” I think that you have the right to protect your health. You have the right to not eat poorly, not drink alcohol and not walk into a bar that allows smoking. You have the right to work in a place that bans smoking. As much as we want we can’t live risk-free lives. I have a 4 year old. I have to balance his safety vs his growth all the time. Do I take him to the pool so he can be active vs the danger of drowning. Should I let him climb that ladder at the park even though he could fall. Should I let him participate in sports. The funny thing is we worry about all of these things. Yet we encourage him to participate. The funny thing is that the simple act of driving to these is far more dangerous. You as a scientist understand that the risk of travel is hundreds if not thousands of times far more dangerous than a smoky bar.

    mogasp reply: Tony, You make numerous comments, some of which I agree with and others I don’t. What you do, or are expected to do, as a parent is different from what one expects of government agencies responsible for public health and welfare. However, in both cases, one has to prioritize and weigh the pros and cons. Smoking and secondhand smoke both rate as major public health issues, especially the former which ranks as the #1 cause of preventable death in the U.S.
    I don’t agree with your suggesting that I, as a scientist, understand that “the risk of travel is hundreds if not thousands of times far more dangerous than a smoky bar.” On the contrary, I don’t believe that statement can be sustained by the facts. The risk of premature death from different causes was calculated some time ago and as I recall SHS ranked higher than that from auto crashes, surprisingly enough, and among the top 4 or 5. I don’t have that data at my fingertips though.

  11. Air cleaning technology gets turned off post-ban which allows lots of airborne pathogens to be present in greater quantities.. increasing sickness risks to workers and patrons. My late wife was a travel writer. She told me that she and many fellow travlel writers started getting sick much more often when flying after the Congress banned airline smoking in the early 1990’s . There are no studies linking gastric reflux to SHS exposure.

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