Monthly Archives: February 2012

2011-01-20 ChesterfieldPatch: “Return to Smitty’s: Has the Smoking Ban Helped or Hurt?”

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I’m grateful for having been alerted earlier today (Thursday, February 23, 2012) to the following personal account by columnist, John Hoffmann, who writes for the on-line Chesterfield Patch and who also took the photo reproduced below. It’s a positive story about how the smoke-free air ordinance implemented back in January 2011 impacted one establishment and its customers, despite previous economic concerns. Of course, one example doesn’t prove anything but it’s nice to learn that bars can survive and thrive in a smoke-free environment, and everyone’s health benefits.

(P.S. When I first posted this I was under the impression that it was a January 2012 story! I’ve now corrected that in the preceding paragraph and also the subject line after one alert reader pointed out the error.)

Return to Smitty’s: Has the Smoking Ban Helped or Hurt?

John Hoffmann

By John Hoffmann January 20, 2011

A cloud of smoke used to hang in the air at Smitty’s. But now it’s gone and employees say thus far business is good.

Bartender Christine Grgic pours a glass of wine for a customer in a smoke-free Smitty's. Before the countywide smoking ban went into effect, a cloud of smoke hung in the air.
Photo: John Hoffmann




In November, I wrote about how I was looking forward to retiring my Smitty’s clothes after the St. Louis County smoking ban went into effect. The smoke was so thick when I ate there every Thursday that I had to wear clothes I could strip off and stuff in the washing machine the second I got home.
         Smitty’s, the neighborhood bar and restaurant tucked into the corner of the Baxter Bend shopping center at Clayton and Baxter Roads, is a lot like places that were on every other corner in South St. Louis 30 years ago. There is a bar on one side and tables for good food on the other. Before the ban, there was lots of smoke hanging in the air.
         When I spoke to her in November, bartender Christine Grgic predicted the smoking ban would mean more customers for both the restaurant and the bar. Nancy Seaman, a waitress during the week and bartender on the weekends, said she thought the ban would improve their dinner business but kill bar business.
         Last Thursday, I was at Smitty’s for my usual chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes. Instead of wearing a sweatshirt, I had on a cashmere sweater. I never would have considered wearing it to Thursday night dinner prior to Jan. 2.
         “It’s only been two weeks!” both Grgic and owner Don “Smitty” Schmitt said when I asked about the ban last Thursday.
         “Now I can act like a normal human being,” Grgic said. “I can take just one shower a day, instead of having to take a second shower every time I came home from work just to get the smell of smoke out of my hair.”
         Both Grgic and Schitt said business is up so far.
         “I was damn worried when the ban passed. This is my steady income. But I have to admit last Friday night was the best Friday night we have had in 10 to 12 years,” Schmitt said.
         “We are seeing new old faces,” Schmitt said. “They are people who used to come here, but quit coming because of the smoke. They are coming back now. I have gotten far more comments on how much better people like it now than people complaining about not being able to smoke.”
         Grgic said the number of people who have come back or in for the first time because of the ban far outweighs the number of people who have stopped coming because they can’t smoke.
         There’s often a wait for tables on Wednesday for fried chicken night. But, Thursdays prior to 2011 weren’t that busy. I wanted to talk to Nancy Seaman last Thursday but she was too busy. Almost every table in the place was taken by 6:15 p.m.
         Seaman said in November she was worried about the effect the ban would have on business on nights a band was booked.
         “Anita Rosamond will always draw a big crowd on Saturday afternoons. But we were worried about the bands on Friday or Saturday nights. So far things have been great,” Schmitt said.
         A woman at the bar listening to our conservation interrupted to say she didn’t like the smoking ban one bit.
         “I am going to another place now so I can have a drink and smoke,” she said. I pointed out that she was still at Smitty’s.
         “I can’t not go to Smitty’s!” she said. “It’s that I have to go somewhere else now too. I’d rather come just come here.”

About this column: This article is the work and opinion of its author John Hoffmann.

2012-02-15 P-D: “Smoking ban citations are few and far between in St. Louis area”

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A good roundup of the current secondhand smoke scene in the St. Louis region by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, Margaret Gillerman. It has generated a lively debate among supporters and opponents on the Post-Dispatch website, which you can reach by clicking on the Comments live link below. Here’s a comment I posted recently in response to earlier posts.

From measurements that I have made, plus more recent measurements made independently for Missouri GASP, I can state without hesitation that no ventilation system I have encountered in metro St. Louis provides an acceptable alternative to smoke-free air.
Mr. Bill Hannegan makes scientific pronouncements but he is not a scientist and doesn’t have the knowledge to back up his statements.
When working at the former McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. in St Louis I was responsible for designing and running a semiconductor clean room, which is the exact opposite of a room in which smoking is permitted – what I would term a “dirty room.”
I have not seen any technical proposal for a room in which smoking is allowed which would not simultaneously permit unacceptable levels of secondhand smoke (SHS) to diffuse to an adjoining nominally smoke-free area. Nor would such a room shield non-smokers adequately from SHS exposure.

Related Stories

St. Louis County Council open to changing exemptions to smoking ban
Smoking ban chokes O’Fallon bar business
St. Charles County Council won’t put smoking ban on ballot

Smoking ban citations are few and far between in St. Louis area

BY MARGARET GILLERMAN mgillerman@post-dispatch.com > 314-725-6758 | Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:10 am | Comments (140 as of February 15, 2012, 6:53 pm)

Joe Clark’s Bar in Fenton gets rave reviews on the Internet for its food and friendliness, drawing 4½ of 5 stars on Yahoo.
         But one negative was noted in a review on urbanspoon by a customer, who wrote: “Service was great but the secondhand smoke made my daughter sick!”
         That feature no doubt figured in Joe Clark’s being the first and only establishment to be cited for violating St. Louis County’s smoking ordinance.
         The county’s Indoor Clean Air ordinance has been in effect for more than 13 months, and so far about 250 violations have been called in to the county Health Department.
         Its policy has been to work with violators to get them to comply.
         Joe Clark’s did not, the county says, and is facing a $100 fine.
         Other St. Louis County communities such as Kirkwood, Brentwood, Clayton and Creve Coeur that have prohibited indoor smoking in public places over the last two years have reported few complaints and almost no citations. An exception was Clayton’s well-publicized ticketing of the Ritz-Carlton over its cigar ball in a hotel ballroom. The Ritz paid a $300 fine and now restricts smoking to its cigar club room and some hotel rooms, which have exemptions.
         The city of St. Louis enacted its smoking ban at the same time as the county’s, Jan. 2, 2011.
         Since then, the city has sent 19 violation letters to businesses, out of 703 businesses selling liquor by the drink.
         The Missouri Athletic Club, the venerable athletic, dining and social club downtown, was first to be cited, more than a year ago. The $100 fine has not been paid, and the case has yet to be heard in municipal court. It’s set to be heard May 9.
         “We have retained counsel to help us interpret the ordinance, which is pretty complex,” said Tom Albus, president of the MAC.
         Albus, who is an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in white-collar crime, added: “We obviously intend to abide by the law and will abide by any ruling that the court ultimately makes.”
         City officials said a year ago that MAC administrators had told inspectors that the MAC was a private club and therefore exempt. But the city ordinance exempts private clubs only if they have no employees.
         Warren Nichols, a spokesman for the city Health Department, said that 16 of the 19 violation letters that went out were due to complaints from the public and three resulted from routine inspections.
         Of the 19 violations, most businesses paid their fines. Three cases, including the MAC’s, were referred to court for nonpayment. Two were dismissed.
         Craig LeFebvre, spokesman for the County Health Department, said the county has tried to work with businesses to achieve voluntary compliance.
         “During this first year of enforcement, our interest first and foremost was in helping businesses comply,” LeFebvre said.
         He added: “In some cases, it was just employee confusion about the new law — for example, how many feet from an entrance is smoking prohibited, and so forth.”
         Joe Clark’s will have to pay a fine of $100 for its first offense. The bar had been asked to stop smokers from smoking indoors but continued to allow them to light up, LeFebvre said.
         “We would not have issued a citation if there had not been a continuing violation,” LeFebvre said.
         Joe Clark’s declined to comment on the citation.
         Another violation there within a year would trigger a $200 fine, and subsequent violations within a year would carry $500 fines.

FEW COMPLAINTS

         In Kirkwood, Detective David Smith said police have received only one complaint about compliance since the city’s ban went into effect in January 2010.
         The complaint was of “constant smoking” at a restaurant on South Kirkwood Road. Police investigated, and found no smoking, Smith said.
         Brentwood, which has a year-old ban, has received two complaints, said City Administrator Bola Akande. In both cases, the smoking was occurring outside of restaurants.
         Creve Coeur, whose ban began Jan. 2, 2011, has resolved numerous complaints, said Jaysen Christensen, assistant to the city administrator. Two complaints were on a smoke-free business campus. Warnings were given, and meetings were held with the company’s smoking cessation committee.
         In St. Charles County, Lake Saint Louis and O’Fallon have adopted smoking bans.
         Lake Saint Louis, where a ban took effect Oct. 1, 2010, has received a complaint about a pub and others at the Lake Saint Louis National Equestrian Center, said City Administrator Paul Markworth. All were resolved through discussions. O’Fallon’s ban went into effect June 16. City spokesman Tom Drabelle said compliance had been “essentially 100 percent.”
         Ballwin and Arnold have had smoking bans for several years.
         Complaints have been rare.
         Ballwin City Clerk Marie Clark said that people “pretty much know this is the way it is.” The ban there took effect in 2006. Arnold enacted its ban in 2004.

2012-02-10 P-D: “Health director says Tobacco Free is in line with tax law”

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.

Efforts by Bill Hannegan to attack Tobacco Free St. Louis and Pat Lindsey, who plays a leading role in this organization, seem to have fizzled, according to this latest article by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, Margaret Gillerman.

However, opponents of smoke-free air beg to differ, judging by some of their on-line comments, posted following the story (please see examples pasted below):

(In a response to this blog, Mr. Hannegan denies any intention to attack either Tobacco Free or Pat Lindsey.
I’ve also learned the following facts about Tobacco Free St. Louis (TFSTL), which is registered as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit:
TFSTL is completely separate and distinct from St. Louis University’s School of Public Health. Pat Lindsey works for SLU’s School of Public Health, but also acts as unpaid Executive Director of TFSTL, which has received no funding from the CDC grant. Its limited funding comes from dues and from an annual Trivia Night fundraiser, and it incurs no lobbying expenditures.)

Bill Hannegan said on: February 10, 2012, 12:52 am
According to IRS rules “no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation… An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.” http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=163392,00.html
Clearly one of the main jobs assigned to Tobacco Free St. Louis was the altering of existing public smoking ordinances in St. Louis County. That sort of assignment is not permitted to 501(c)(3) organizations. The Health Department chose the wrong group for this task.
Dr. Gunn’s full statement is posted at: http://keepstlouisfree.blogspot.com/

Tony Palazzolo

Tony Palazzolo said on: February 10, 2012, 6:40 am
St Louis County paid them with taxpayer dollars. A goal of recieving that money is to change law. While there is a grey area between education and lobbying, a goal of changing a law is lobbying. You have the health department giving a group with tax exempt status tax dollars to pressure its bosses, the county council to change a law that voters have already voted on. Yet the county wants to close parks, is laying off employeess and has further cuts to consider.

Michael McFadden, author of Dissecting Antismokers' Brains

MichaelJMcFadden said on: February 10, 2012, 8:16 pm
Bill H wrote, “If Tobacco Free St. Louis goes back to lobbying I probably should do as Dr. Gunn suggests.”
No. You should do MORE than that Mr. H. You should seek a legal remedy to balance the damage TFSTL has done with their activity. At a minimum that remedy should consist of a fair estimation of the money spent inappropriately and a grant to the opposition organization of an equal amount. I say “at a minimum” because that doesn’t actually include any sort of punitive damages: it’s simple redress.
If the shoe was on the other foot, they wouldn’t hesitate for a split second. Well, they keep yelling about wanting “a level playing field” – – Give them one!
Michael J. McFadden

JAH-STL said on: February 11, 2012, 3:56 am
According to IRS regulations (http://www.irs.gov/irm/part7/irm_07-027-019.html), direct lobbying consists of “attempts to influence legislation through communications with members or employees of a legislative body and other officials who may participate in the formulation of legislation” and requires that the communication (1) “refers to specific legislation” and (2) “reflects a view on such legislation”. The rules further extend this to “Grassroots Lobbying” under the same general conditions.
It is clear that the activities of Tobacco-Free St. Louis, regardless of the rhetoric used to cloak the intentions, is lobbying under the IRS definition, whether or not the proponents choose to conceal the true nature of the activities by calling them “education” or “advocacy”.
An IRS determination as to the propriety of this activity is in order, as well as full, detailed disclosure of all expenditures by Tobacco-Free St. Louis, St. Louis University, and St. Louis County.

Below is reporter Margaret Gillerman’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch story:

Health director says Tobacco Free is in line with tax law
BY MARGARET GILLERMAN mgillerman@post-dispatch.com > 314-725-6758 | Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 12:00 am | Comments (28 as of February 11, 2012, 3:56 am)

Dr. Dolores Gunn, St. Louis County Director of Health, posing on October 5, 2009, for a photo in a freezer unit. She is holding a package containing a vaccine for the H1N1 virus at a distribution facility in Earth City.
Photo: John L. White

CLAYTON • St. Louis County’s health director, Dr. Dolores Gunn, said Thursday that an anti-smoking organization had broken no tax law in its use of federal grant money.
          The organization, Tobacco Free St. Louis, is using $545,148 from a federal stimulus grant for anti-smoking efforts.
          Bill Hannegan, an opponent of smoking bans here, had complained that Tobacco Free was lobbying the County Council on the smoking issue. Federal tax law allows limited lobbying by nonprofits like Tobacco Free to influence legislation.
          Hannegan said that his own activist group on the other side of the issue had to pay taxes on its efforts but that Tobacco Free did not.
          “They’re getting a free ride,” he said.
          The Tobacco Free money came from a $7.6 million federal grant the county got for anti-smoking efforts. Gunn said that Tobacco Free, one of several groups that got money, says its goals include education and advocacy campaigns to the County Council and general public about the need to remove exemptions from the county’s smoke-free ordinance. On Jan. 26, the group held a news conference where community leaders talked about the dangers of smoking and the problem with exemptions.
          Gunn told Hannegan he was confusing “lobbying” with “education and advocacy.” Hannegan disagreed. The latter is permitted by the Internal Revenue Service, Gunn said.
          Gunn said that St. Louis University, and not Tobacco Free, was the fiscal agent for the grant money being spent through Tobacco Free.
          “To my knowledge, the university and the activities being managed … are fully in compliance with the contract and all applicable federal laws and reporting requirements,” Gunn wrote.