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Today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a prominent front-page story about the high adult smoking rate in Jefferson County, no less than 30%, and a revealing map contrasting adult smoking rates in neighboring counties on both sides of the river. The smoking rates, in order of highest to lowest, are:
Jefferson County, MO: 30%
Franklin County, MO: 28%
St. Louis City, MO: 27%
Madison County, IL: 22%
St. Clair County, IL: 22%
St. Louis County, MO: 18%
St. Charles County, MO: 17%
Monroe County, IL: 9%
The story notes that nationally, 19% of adults smoke, according to 2011 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When you have smoking rates that high, even though it’s still a minority of the adult population, it becomes more difficult to obtain support for smoke-free air laws, and less likely that indoor environments will be smoke-free. The story again underscores the fact that we have some way to go still to protect public health from this environmental hazard, and ensure safe working conditions for all employees.
Jefferson County leads area in smoking rate
BY LEAH THORSEN • firstname.lastname@example.org > 636-937-6249 | Posted: Monday, April 9, 2012 12:15 am
Julia Curtis, 42, of Pevely, who started smoking at age 17, takes a break from her job at River City Resale in Crystal City on Monday, April 2, 2012. Shop owner Ron Sutton, also a local minister, said he prays nightly for her to stop smoking.
Photo by St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer, Robert Cohen
HILLSBORO • The “smoking booth” outside the Jefferson County courthouse is a busy place.
Smokers huddle beneath it when it rains. On pleasant days, they stand around its edges, surrounded by a cigarette haze. A mix of visitors and courthouse employees converge for smoke breaks.
Numbers released last week by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explain the booth’s popularity.
In Jefferson County, 30 percent of adults smoke. That’s well above the national average of 19 percent and the 24 percent of Missourians who light up.
Sentiment among county residents has historically leaned toward a fear of government overreach and intrusion on personal choices.
“They like to choose what they want to do and don’t want to do out here,” said Linda Coker, a courthouse employee taking a smoke break on a recent day.
And smoking isn’t as frowned upon as it is elsewhere.
“I think it’s more socially acceptable here and part of the norm,” said Chrissy Oberle, health education coordinator of the Jefferson County Health Department.
Her department offers smoking cessation classes, but one in January was canceled when only two people showed up. Other recent classes have been held.
And while other local cities and counties grapple with smoking bans, governing boards in Jefferson County seldom, if ever, debate whether to curtail smoking.
Only the city of Arnold has attempted to limit smoking — in restaurants — and the City Council has been backpedaling ever since.
David Venable, who authored Arnold’s ban when he was a councilman there, said his motivation to write the ban came from a group of senior citizens who had trouble breathing in smoky restaurants.
Venable, who now lives in Pevely and has a hearing-impaired daughter, said he didn’t anticipate the level of hostility his idea would cause. People came out of their houses to scream and curse at him, he said.
“It got to the point I was thankful my daughter was deaf,” he said, so she didn’t have to listen to the horrible things people said to him.
In July 2004, Arnold council members voted to ban smoking in bars and restaurants that took in less than 70 percent of their sales from alcohol. But weeks later, the city amended the ordinance to allow smoking in walled-off, separately ventilated areas where alcohol was served.
After more contention, the council voted in February 2006 to allow restaurants the option of adding a smoking room, regardless of whether they served alcohol.
Smoking is not allowed in restaurants that have an attached bar, but restaurants with at least 50 seats can allow smoking in a separate room. The smoking room’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system must be separate from the system that serves the rest of the restaurant.
Smoking bans in St. Louis and St. Louis County exempt a few businesses, such as casinos and bars in which food service is a small part of their total business. Tougher city bans with no exemptions for bars are in place in Clayton, Brentwood, Creve Coeur, Kirkwood and Ballwin.
St. Charles County residents could vote in November on whether they would like a smoking ban that exempts the Ameristar Casino and many bars and restaurants, or for a stricter ban with few exemptions.
But in Jefferson County, finding a nonchain restaurant that is smoke-free can prove difficult.
Off the Hook in De Soto has been smoke-free since it opened in January 2005. The restaurant does not serve alcohol. Customers occasionally sneak into the bathroom for a smoke, and some don’t stay to eat when they hear smoking isn’t allowed, said owner Patty Orchard.
Still, she’s glad her place offers asthma and allergy sufferers a place to dine.
“I think most people are happy to have a nice meal without smoke in their face,” she said. “And the employees are really grateful.”
Poppy’s Ristorante, operating in Crystal City since 1975, went smoke-free in 1998, invoking the ire of some customers, said manager Bonnie Jackman.
“But for as many as we had that were angry, we had as many who were really excited,” she said.
The restaurant is small with little ventilation, and tables are close to one another, she said. Nonsmoking customers had complained about cigarette smoke.
The Jefferson County Health Department recently surveyed 2,000 residents of Crystal City about their attitudes toward smoking. Just 262 residents responded, but 84 percent of them said they would support smoke-free workplaces, including bars and restaurants.
Cassandra Miller, the department’s tobacco control coordinator, is encouraged by those results. She would like to see a smoking ban enacted at the same time in the nearby cities of Festus, Crystal City, Pevely and Herculaneum.
“I think in the restaurants it would be fine, but I think a lot of people would have problems with it in the bars,” Jackman said.
A survey conducted in Festus in 2009 showed 72 percent of residents favoring smoke-free workplaces. But the city has not enacted rules banning smoking. Miller plans to attend a City Council meeting there next month to speak on the benefits of smoke-free workplaces.
She would like to see a countywide smoking ban but knows that would be a challenge.
Lisa Ceriotti, of Barnhart, said she worries that her children might take up smoking. Neither she nor her husband smoke, but they have friends and family who do. Her husband’s grandmother, a smoker, died of lung cancer.
She and her family attended an anti-smoking event last month at Jefferson Regional Medical Center put on by the Health Department. Her 8-year-old old daughter, Emily, won a contest for an anti-smoking poster she had made.
“Hopefully what I’ve taught them and what they’ve learned at school will deter them,” Ceriotti said.
Those who gather for a smoke outside the Hillsboro courthouse wonder whether a time will come when they’ll lose their smoking booth. The county moved the booth away from the building a few years ago — but not to keep smoke from the entrance.
Rather, it was a security worry, said Jefferson County Presiding Judge Lisa Page.
The U.S. Marshals Service did a security analysis in 2009 and found someone could have climbed onto the roof of the smoking structure when it sat next to the courthouse and could have entered the courtroom of Circuit Judge Ray Dickhaner through a window. Page moved the smoking area to its current location on the parking lot, about 50 feet from the courthouse entrance.
Courthouse employee Donna Renner said she’ll always find a way to get a cigarette on her breaks.
“I’ll sit in my car,” she said between puffs. “Because I paid for my car.”