A look back: The case that started Missouri GASP

Reminder: For a comment to be considered it must be accompanied by your full name: first name only or a pseudonym is not normally accepted. Please limit your comment to 1,000 characters (including spaces), and also avoid epithets and personal attacks.

I was doing some infrequent vacuuming in my bedroom when I noticed a large piece of cardboard which had fallen behind my chest of drawers. On retrieving it I found pasted to it a roughly 13 inch square newspaper article (see below) dating back to the early days of Missouri GASP when it was still called St. Louis GASP. It also featured the battle fought by Paul Smith in his smoky workplace which had galvanized supporters and led to GASP’s formation.

The newspaper is brown from age but the article remains relevant, demonstrating what a long hard slog this has been to arrive where we are today, with most workplaces now totally smoke-free, except for holdouts like casinos and small bars. And there are still vocal opponents, except now the tobacco lobby is largely absent, replaced by deep pocket casino interests, or smokers and their supporters. They either stubbornly oppose smoke-free air protections, or they are fighting to undo those gains by arguing, for example, that in adult-only establishments the rules shouldn’t apply. (To be consistent, that logic would imply that smoking should be allowed in ANY adult-only workplace!)

My wife helped me transcribe the above article and I reproduce it below to give you a taste of what it was like in those early days.

GASP Wages Battle for Smokefree Work and Public Places
Press Journal Feb. 13, 1985, page 5
By Susan Kostal
Journal Staff Writer

         One member is a computer programmer with MasterCard who cringes when someone pulls out an object resembling a cigarette.
         Another is a retired woman who has twice battled cancer.
         A third is a TWA employee who is highly sensitive to cigarette smoke.
         All are members of St. Louis GASP – Group Against Smoking Pollution, an environmental political action group of 80 people who battle for their right to a smoke-free environment.
         The group sprang up a year ago in support of member Paul Smith’s suit against AT&T asking for a smoke-free working environment. (See related story.)
         GASP is a loosely connected with ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) and other GASPs around the country. Members include nonsmokers, ex-smokers, those highly allergic or sensitive to cigarette smoke and those simply interested in the issue.
         AND GASP members intend to make it an issue.

         Martin Pion, St. Louis GASP president, said studies show that not only is smoking dangerous to the health of the smoker, it also is dangerous to “passive smokers” subjected to “sidestream” rather than “mainstream” smoke.
         A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that between 500 and 5,000 nonsmokers die each year of lung cancer caused by the pollutants from tobacco smoke from others.
         The EPA concluded “passive” tobacco smoke is the nation’s most dangerous carcinogen. In answer, the GASP philosophy statement says smoking should be “limited to consenting adults in private.”
         But members are not totally unsympathetic to smokers.
         “We realize we can’t ask everybody to go cold turkey,” Pion said.
         Instead, the group battles in the courts and through informal activism, such as boycotting restaurants that do not offer no-smoking sections, seeking smoke-free work environments and displaying anti-smoking buttons and posters.
         “Clean air is our right,” Pion said.

         ATTORNEY CLARK Cole, a member and consultant to the group, said “there is no constitutional right to smoke, therefore there are no laws against prohibiting it. Legislation is the best, almost the only way to go.”
         Member and free-lance writer Mary Jo Blackwood said 38 states have a non-smoking law on their books. Missouri had two laws relating to the sale of cigarettes to minors on the books until 1977.
         GASP has high hopes for the Missouri Clean Indoor Air Act, Pion said. The group also had discussed with City of St. Louis aldermen the possibility of a smoking ordinance.
         Their model is San Francisco’s anti-smoking law, instituted in March 1984. The law requires employers to write a smoking policy that allows a non-smoker to object to smoke in the workplace without fear of losing his or her job. If an acceptable solution cannot be found, smoking must be banned in the office or work area.
         While non-smokers are waiting for laws to more strictly regulate smokers, they can fight individual battles. Cole said blowing smoke in someone’s face has been termed battery, and if that person has the time and money he can take the offending smoker to court.
         MOST GASP members do not have that kind of money, Pion said. They prefer to work towards educating the public about the rights of non-smokers and introducing protective legislation at the state and local level. Most members feel a favorable decision in Smith’s suit would speed the legislative process.
         Until then, each will continue to fight for a smoke-free environment in their own way.
         The next meeting of GASP is at 7 pm, March 4, in the Hawthorn Room in the basement of Deaconess Hospital College of Nursing. For more information write GASP at PO Box 6086, SW Station, St. Louis, 63139.

The Court Case That Started It All
By Susan Kostal
Journal Staff Writer

         Judge Alphonso Voorhees was besieged with briefs and deluged with depositions at the close of Paul E. Smith vs. AT&T in August, 1984, a case which will decide if an employee has the right to demand a smoke-free work place.
         Six months after the three-day trial, Smith said he doesn’t mind waiting for a decision. “Ten years ago, I would not have won this lawsuit. As time goes on, my case becomes stronger and stronger,” said the Chesterfield man, a former employee of AT&T, formerly Western Union.
(This should read: Western Electric.)
         Judge Voorhees, of the St. Louis County Circuit Court, Division 13, is in the difficult position of deciphering a complicated case that began in the courts in 1980. The case will set precedent in Missouri law, whether Smith wins or loses, his lawyer says.
         AT&T DISAGREES that the case is sure to set Missouri precedent. “There is a range of decisions the judge might make. We do not know what the final determination will be,” said Jim Crackel, media spokesman for AT&T.
         “We don’t know what magnitude it will set. There have been several (similar) cases that have already come up and found in favor of both the plaintiff and the defendant.” Those cases have not had a great impact on company smoking policy, locally or nationally, Crackel said.
         Smith began with the company in 1950, when smoking was not permitted in the office. After a new ventilation system was installed, employees were allowed to smoke, he said.
         At the time of the suit, he was an engineering assistant with a handsome salary. However, he said the money was not compensation for the discomfort he experienced when exposed to cigarette smoke. He said he developed nausea, headaches, and chest pains. His blood pressure, now back to normal, was substantially higher, he said.

Paul Smith, a member of St. Louis Group Against Smoking Pollution, is waiting for a decision on his court case against AT&T. He has sued the company for a smoke-free environment. The case involves literally pounds of expert testimony
and lengthy depositions.

         EXTENSIVE clinical testing showed he had a high sensitivity to smoke and an immune system that was not regulating itself properly. His symptoms grew worse when he worked overtime, when the regular ventilation system was turned off, he said.
         Smith donned a respirator to screen smoke from the air he breathed. The sound level in his helmet was measured 70 decibels, he said, and did not help his situation.
         After a lengthy effort to persuade AT&T to establish a smoking policy, Smith filed suit against the company in 1980, seeking an injunction against smoking in the work place.
         AT&T did not turn a deaf ear to Smith’s complaints, said Bill Winzerling, spokesman for AT&T.
         “WE HAVE DONE a multitude of things to accommodate our employee, including negative and positive respirators, moving him away from individuals who smoke and offering him several other jobs and accommodations. We have sent him to other institutions for evaluations as well, at company expense.”

(mogasp note: In reality, Western Electric retaliated against Paul Smith, forcing him to wear this noisy cumbersome full-head respirator instead of providing him with a smoke-free working environment.)

         The case was initially dismissed on the grounds that the issue was not in the jurisdiction of Missouri common law.

Morley Swingle, now Cape Girardeau Prosecuting Attorney

         Smith and Cape Girardeau lawyer Morley Swingle appealed the decision to the Missouri Appellate Court. The appeals court ruled unanimously in September 1982 that Smith had the right to sue, thereby establishing the common law right to a safe work environment, Smith said.
         AT&T contends Smith’s case is unique. Aside from Smith, the company has had few complaints concerning smoking in the workplace, said Winzerling.
         “THE MAJORITY of our employees are satisfied. We believe he is a unique situation, hypersensitive to smoke,” said Winzerling. “We have a strong case, and we will be upheld.”
         The case went to trial went to trial in August 1984. During the trial, Smith said he was called mentally ill, a hypochondriac and a crusader.
         “Every effort was made to discredit me,” said Smith. Several doctors for the plaintiff testified he was not neurotic, just determined, he said.
         In the meantime, his wife also filed suit against the company. She now works in a smoke-free environment at a savings and loan. There was a time, however, when Smith’s dispute with AT&T put a strain on his marriage, and his wife filed for divorce. The couple has since reconciled. Smith calls her “very supportive.”
         Smith’s case was widely publicized and very expensive. A political action group, St. Louis GASP (Group Against Smoking Pollution), formed to support him. Smith has “boxes of letters” from around the country encouraging him in his fight. He has received several donations as well.

         SMITH SAID he is not suing for punitive damages, but for a smoke-free work place. His physician recommended he go on sick leave, and when he had used all his sick days in April 1984, he was “forced into early retirement,” he said.
         He is now unemployed.
         Smith said he isn’t asking for a total ban on cigarette smoking at AT&T. “But they could set up smoking lounges on separate ventilation systems. I don’t think the whole workplace should be one.”
         Crackel said a total ban on smoking and the establishment of smoking lounges would be considerable expense to the company.
         But that is exactly what Smith has demanded. “The problems (between smokers and nonsmokers) are not always resolved through compromise and courtesy,” said Smith.

3 responses to “A look back: The case that started Missouri GASP

  1. Unbelievable how much progress there has been in 27 years. When we took out the ashtrays from the art building at SLCC the dean of students said we can’t start classes without smoking. Now the campus is smoke free.
    Thanks Martin for leading the battle.

    mogasp reply: Thanks, but I was only one of many. You played your part too!

  2. Paul Smith: “But they could set up smoking lounges on separate ventilation systems. I don’t think the whole workplace should be one.”

    What ever happened to that reasonable compromise?

    mogasp comment: It wasn’t a reasonable compromise, but the most one could obtain back then. I recall our workplace taking the first hesitant step when it allowed people like me to put up a sign on our desk requesting others not to smoke. That didn’t stop the smoke from a chain-smoking colleague from reaching my desk almost immediately after she lit up, putting her cigarette between puffs in a useless “smokeless ashtray.”

  3. I am assuming Kim Mosley also refrains from using solvents indoors on the SLCC campus out of respect for fellow teachers and students who might be highly sensitive. No painting with oils indoors, right?

    mogasp comment: There’s a difference between essentials, where if any environmental risk exists, you should minimize it, and optional personal behavior that puts others at risk due to an addiction.
    This is no different from when I supervised a semiconductor lab. in which I had specified clean room hoods with exhausts to capture potentially hazardous volatile chemicals and ensure the safety of fellow workers.
    Smoking was not part of the job description!

  4. Martin, You have the persistence of a bulldog and as a result non-smokers in the metropolitan area have an environment that is easier and more pleasant to breathe. Prof. Kim Mosley deserves credit for his excellent work at STLCC at Florissant Valley. Students and educators at Lindenwood University had to put up with indoor smoke pollution for many more years.

Leave a Reply to Kim Mosley Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s