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Councilwoman Nancy Matheny is evidently the swing vote on St. Charles County Council and the reason for the recent failure of legislative efforts by Councilman Joe Cronin to advance his smoke-free agenda. The O’Fallon Patch, an on-line news outlet, published a story providing a lot more insight into Councilwoman Nancy Matheny’s views on the subject of SHS. It doesn’t make her opposition to a comprehensive smoke-free air law any more acceptable though. I posted the following comment after reading this story:
3:07pm on Thursday, December 1, 2011
It’s a public health issue which has become deliberately confused by arguments having nothing to do with public health. We can thank Big Tobacco and its present-day surrogates for that.
As for this being a statewide issue, there has always been far too much opposition from entrenched tobacco interests to get more than a token statewide law, which is what we have now. That law doesn’t require a single place in the state to be smoke-free.
I know because initially Missouri GASP, of which I’m president, worked hard for many years at the state level and finally gave up and instead concentrated on local ordinances, which has proved to be far more successful.
The proposed St. Charles County smoking ban is likely to suffer a setback Monday night. Three council members support the countywide smoke-free ordinance and three members are opposed.
Council member Paul Wynn, R-District 4, likely will be out of town and unable to vote. Wynn has also adamantly opposed smoke-free laws.
A tie would send council members back to the drawing board or some residents out to begin gathering signatures for an initiative petition.
“It always seems like more than it really is—I’ve probably had about 50 (phone calls and emails),” said Matheny, of Weldon Spring.
Last spring, Matheny supported a smoking ban bill introduced by Councilman Joe Cronin, R-District 1. That bill, which was vetoed by County Executive Steve Ehlmann, had several exemptions for businesses, including the casino. However, when Cronin re-introduced the smoking ban, it had fewer exemptions and it separated out a casino exemption in a separate bill.
“I don’t think I changed my vote,” Matheny said. “I am in favor of a smoking ban.”
She said that as things stand now, the ban would hurt too many people, affecting the city of St. Charles, school districts and casino employees and other businesses.
“Mostly, it’s the inequity,” Matheny said. “If we can’t do it statewide, as the County Executive says, it just picks winners and losers. You would have St. Louis County operating under one set of rules and St. Charles County under another set of rules. We need to have the same rules in a region at the very least.”
She noted that Ameristar Casino invested $100 million in its St. Charles facility.
“We voted back in the ‘90s to have them come in here. I don’t think we can just throw them under the bus now,” Matheny said.
Taking the initiative?
One possibility hanging over the heads of council members is an initiative petition.
Stacy Reliford, field government relations director of the American Cancer Society in St. Louis, said it’s too soon to say whether St. Charles County residents will start an initiative petition drive to change the county charter assuming the smoking measure fails Monday.
“I don’t think there’s been any final decision on that,” Reliford said. “You never know what’s going to happen in politics. The group will be prudent in its actions.”
She said with the oncoming holiday season, the group is unlikely to take any immediate action.
A middle road?
In fact, Matheny said the council might not be done exploring variations on the smoking ban.
“We have not sat down and discussed a smoking ban as a council,” Matheny said.
She said there might be a middle-of-the-road proposal acceptable both to county council members and the county executive.
One possibility would be banning smoking in restaurants, but not bars or the casino—essentially banning smoking in any establishment that admits people under age 21.
“Most bars and the casino don’t allow anyone under 21 anyway, she said.
However, Reliford said that those who support a smoke-free St. Charles County would oppose a law that applies only to establishments that allow children or those under age 21.
“People 21 and older are affected by secondhand smoke,” Reliford said. “Plus, places that have that rule end up having enforcement issues because people are confused about which places have smoking bans.”
“At the end of the day, there’s no public health benefit because not every place is smoke free,” Reliford added.