2012-01-27 P-D: “St. Louis County Council open to changing exemptions to smoking ban”

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Friday’s story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by reporter, Margaret Gillerman, a follow-up to her story the previous day, suggests that St. Louis County Council Chairman, Mike O’Mara, might be open to removing some of the exemptions from the present county smoke-free air ordinance.

That would be a good thing, as well as a significant change in Councilman O’Mara’s prior position opposing smoke-free air legislation. The article notes that both he and County Executive Charlie Dooley still favor a statewide law. As I’ve stated many times before, based on past bitter experience, we are walking into a lion’s den if we pursue that strategy, since the tobacco lobby and their sympathizers are in control in Jefferson City. We are making major progress at the local level: let’s continue to focus on that, as this latest effort does.

I would be really impressed if Councilman O’Mara and a majority of his colleagues were willing to remove the exemption allowing smoking on the gaming floor of casinos!

Tobacco-Free St. Louis Coalition deserves congratulations for generating a lot of coverage for this story, which was also featured on KPLR-TV Channel 11:

http://www.kplr11.com/videogallery/67661703/News/anti-smoking-group-calls-for-tougher-ban

Below is the story by reporter Margaret Gillerman:

St. Louis County Council open to changing exemptions to smoking ban

BY MARGARET GILLERMAN • mgillerman@post-dispatch.com > 314-725-6758 | Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 12:05 am | Comments (39 as of January 27, 2012, 6:46 pm)

CLAYTON • St. Louis County Council Chairman Mike O’Mara said Thursday that the county’s year-old smoking ban ordinance “needs to be tweaked” and that he’s open to suggestions for eliminating exemptions to the ban.
          “A year has gone by, and there are still small neighborhood businesses being hurt by it — and we need to sit down come up with something better,” O’Mara said. “It’s not an even playing field for all small businesses. Part of the solution is eliminating some exemptions.”
          O’Mara, D-Florissant, made his comments in response to a call Thursday morning by community leaders working with the Tobacco-Free St. Louis Coalition to eliminate exemptions.
          The organization also released a study showing that North County has a disproportionately high incidence of heart attacks and lung diseases, putting residents at more risk from smoking. North County also has the most exemptions to the county ban — 56 of the 145, the group noted.
          Its analysis also shows the fewest exemptions, 20, for Mid County, where some municipalities have adopted stricter ordinances that supersede the countywide ban.
          Pat Lindsey, executive director of Tobacco-Free St. Louis, said the group intended to go to the County Council soon to ask it to remove the exemptions.
          O’Mara said that before changes are made, businesses with and without exemptions and the public needed to be consulted.
          “This (the Clean Indoor Air Act) was voted on by residents of St. Louis County,” he said.
          The ordinance was passed by a two-thirds majority in 2009 and took effect Jan. 2, 2011. Establishments are eligible for exemptions if food sales total less than 25 percent of the annual total sales of food and beverage.
          O’Mara, who had voted against putting the issue on the ballot, said Thursday he preferred a statewide smoking ban to truly level the playing field.
          County Executive Charlie A. Dooley has steadfastly supported a statewide ban.
          As for changing the current ban, “that’s pretty much in the hands of the County Council,” said Dooley spokesman Mac Scott.
At the Tobacco-Free news conference, Dr. Stuart Slavin, a board member of the organization, said its study           showed “the rate of exemptions is higher in the districts where health disparities are highest — making a bad health situation worse,”
          Slavin, an associate dean of the medical school at St. Louis University, said, “We’re failing those who need it most.”
          Dr. Rance Thomas, president of North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice, also spoke.
          “Where people are most vulnerable in our community is where they are most likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke and poisonous air,” Thomas said.
          Bill Hannegan, who has fought smoking bans and heads Keep St. Louis Free, said he was not surprised by Tobacco-Free’s effort because its “Obama stimulus money runs out” soon.
          Tobacco-Free, based at St. Louis University, is the recipient of about $545,000 of a $7.6 million federal stimulus grant that St. Louis County received and distributed. The grant is expected to run out in June, a Tobacco-Free spokesman said Thursday.

7 responses to “2012-01-27 P-D: “St. Louis County Council open to changing exemptions to smoking ban”

  1. Tobacco Free St. Louis is a 501c3 charity that is not supposed to be heavily engaged in lobbying. Yet members of the Tobacco Free St. Louis Board of Directors are on television and before the County Council calling for specific legislative changes. They need to start paying taxes on the contributions they receive.

    “In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.”
    http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=163392,00.html

    mogasp comment: I would guess that a substantial amount of time went into gathering the information and analyzing it in advance of the press conference calling on action by St. Louis County Council. So the actual time spent on lobbying was only a small part of that effort. Plus, who knows how much other time the group spends on activities other than lobbying. I don’t see any problem for Tobacco Free St. Louis here, and I’m not actively involved so I believe this is an objective viewpoint.

  2. “Tobacco-Free, based at St. Louis University, is the recipient of about $545,000 of a $7.6 million federal stimulus grant that St. Louis County received and distributed. The grant is expected to run out in June, a Tobacco-Free spokesman said Thursday.”

    I wonder what happened to the $545,000 Tobacco Free St. Louis got? How much of it was used to influence legislation.

    I believe members of the Board of Directors of a 501c3 should abstain from publicly lobbying for specific legislation.

    mogasp comment: You may believe what you want but it doesn’t make it so.

  3. As I mentioned in a separate post, the grant Mr. Hannegan refers to was to the School of Public Health at St. Louis University. Even the St. Louis County Health Department gets confused about the difference between the two. Mr. Hannegan should really know better. And even 501C(3) directors are allowed to speak publicly about public issues. Public education is part of our charter.

  4. “mogasp comment: I would guess that a substantial amount of time went into gathering the information and analyzing it in advance of the press conference calling on action by St. Louis County Council. So the actual time spent on lobbying was only a small part of that effort”

    Er, MoGasp, if a lobbyist spends a few months preparing the presentation he’s going to make to a Congressional Committee I don’t think he’d get very far if he claimed the preparation time and pay weren’t part of his lobbying activities.

    – MJM

    mogasp reply: You may or may not be right in the example you give, but from what I gathered from news reports, the work for the survey was done gratis by Dr. Stuart Slavin, who’s a member of Tobacco-Free St. Louis.

  5. “From Charles Gatton, submitted on 2012/01/28 at 2:01 pm:
    As I mentioned in a separate post, the grant Mr. Hannegan refers to was to the School of Public Health at St. Louis University. Even the St. Louis County Health Department gets confused about the difference between the two. Mr. Hannegan should really know better. And even 501C(3) directors are allowed to speak publicly about public issues. Public education is part of our charter.”

    Seems there is a lot of misinformation from this group. They have a contract from St Louis County paying them $545,000. The contract states that the goal of the payment is to alter the law. The contract is public information (which btw had to be sunshined by the RFT because they wouldn’t release it). Now they state they were never paid the money and their only source is through fundraising activities. Luckily they have been ineffective as the entire 7.6 million grant. As a taxpayer, the way this money has been spent upsets me greatly. As a advocate for liberty, I’m happy they they have done poorly.

  6. This is related to some extent to the post I just submitted on your previous blog entry. You wrote, “from what I gathered from news reports, the work for the survey was done gratis by Dr. Stuart Slavin, who’s a member of Tobacco-Free St. Louis.”

    So am I understanding from you then that Dr. Slavin is not a recipient of any of the grant money that is oriented toward TFSTL? Because obviously, if he was a recipient, then part of his report on the job he did for the grant money would be the work for the survey … which would most definitely make it a paid activity rather than gratis. Can you clarify this?

    😕
    MJM

    mogasp reply: As noted in your comment above, I’m relying on the same news reports as you are. I know some of the individuals involved but I haven’t quizzed them on this issue, and it would be inappropriate for me to do so.

  7. Understood and accepted mogasp. 🙂 I will see if I can get the information directly from Dr. Slavin and Pat Lindsey.

    – MJM

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