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It’s good to see this issue resurface, and in a stronger form than originally with almost all exemptions excluded. The only fly in the ointment is that casino gaming floors would still be smoke-polluted, even if the public approves these measures at the ballot box, unless casinos in St. Louis and St. Louis County also go smoke-free. Once again we see wealth trumping health when it comes to the politics of secondhand smoke.
BY MARK SCHLINKMANN firstname.lastname@example.org 636-255-7203 | Posted: Friday, November 11, 2011 12:15 am | Comments (74 )
ST. CHARLES COUNTY • Voters would get to decide whether to snuff out smoking, and whether gamblers should be excluded from a ban in bills that county leaders will consider on Monday.
St. Charles County Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul, said he hopes to persuade a majority on the seven-member council to support the two ballot issues he plans to introduce.
“This effectively lets the two separate, but related, issues be decided by the voters based on their merits,” Cronin said in an email Thursday to other council members.
County Executive Steve Ehlmann — who last June blocked a council-endorsed smoking ban from the ballot because it had too many exemptions — says he’s likely to allow the new measures to go forward.
The council last May voted 4-2, with one opponent absent, for Cronin’s earlier proposal for a smoking ban that exempted Ameristar Casino, which is in St. Charles. That bill also included some other exceptions.
Ehlmann vetoed the bill, saying there was no rational reason to exclude casino employees from a health ordinance. He also objected to the other exemptions for similar reasons.
On Thursday, Ehlmann said his preliminary support of Cronin’s new approach is consistent with his previous veto.
“The (Missouri) Constitution allows a charter county to let the people decide what the proper scope of the government is to be,” through charter amendments, Ehlmann said. “If this was a health ordinance, I’d still be opposed. I’m not flip-flopping on this.”
Ehlmann added that although he probably wouldn’t block the separate casino exemption amendment from the ballot, he doesn’t favor its passage by voters. “I hope people have more sense than to create that exemption,” he said.
To pass, each measure would need a simple majority approval by voters at the general election next November.
Ehlmann said his supportive comments for Cronin’s new approach were based on Cronin’s description of the proposals. Ehlmann said he wants to review the actual wording before taking a final position.
Meanwhile, County Council Chairman Joe Brazil, R-Defiance, opposes Cronin’s new measures just as he did the earlier one.
“You’re telling businesses how to run their businesses,” he said.
He added that it would be unfair to veterans groups with some members who are longtime smokers.
Stacy Reliford, an American Cancer Society official active in a regional anti-smoking coalition, said, “It’s promising there’s going to be another round at the County Council on this issue.”
She said the coalition remains opposed to an exemption for casinos.
“We obviously want all workers to be protected and the law to be as comprehensive as possible,” she said.
Ameristar has opposed government-imposed smoking bans.
County Council members who favor exempting Ameristar worry that some of the casino’s jobs could be in jeopardy if smoking is banned there while smoking is allowed at the competing Harrah’s casino across the Missouri River in Maryland Heights.
Cronin said his new casino measure would exempt Ameristar’s gambling floors only if existing exemptions for Harrah’s and other casinos in St. Louis County and St. Louis remain in effect.
Meanwhile, his other new measure would eliminate exemptions for cigar bars and tobacco stores that were in the May bill that Ehlmann vetoed.
However, Cronin said, the new plan includes the earlier bill’s provision allowing hotels and motels to set aside up to 20 percent of their rooms for smokers. Also again exempt, he said, would be private clubs with no employees.
Cronin’s bills would cover unincorporated areas and cities in St. Charles County. The latest efforts to pass a countywide smoking ban follow a successful push last April for voter approval of a ban in the county’s largest city, O’Fallon, Mo. The only other part of the county with a ban is Lake Saint Louis.