Monthly Archives: April 2012

2012-04-29 P-D OpEd: “Leonard Pitts: The scarlet I”

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Leonard Pitts Jr. writes a column for The Miami Herald which also appears in the Sunday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Although this was the subject of the previous mogasp blog, Mr. Pitts’ insights make his excerpted article worth reproducing here. (To read the original in full, please click on the title below.)

Leonard Pitts: The scarlet I
Leonard Pitts Jr. • | Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2012 12:00 am

John Raese, Republican candidate in 2012 for U.S. senator from West Virginia.

John Raese is feeling persecuted.
         Raese, a West Virginia businessman running for the Senate, declared in a recent speech that he doesn’t want the government telling him what to do “because I’m an American.” Specifically, he lamented that he is required to place a “huge sticker” on his buildings declaring them smoke-free environments.
         “Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody’s lapel, remember that? Same thing,” he said.
         For the record, the Nazis did not require the Star of David on “everybody’s” lapel. Only Jews were forced to sew the symbol on their clothing under penalty of being fined, imprisoned or shot. But maybe we should just be grateful Raese did not compare smoker’s lounges to concentration camps — or some tobacco junkie hiding in the toilet to sneak a smoke to Anne Frank, hiding out for her life.
         Predictably, Raese has come under fire from Jewish groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has refused to back down. “I’m not apologizing to anybody or any organization,” he told the Charleston Daily Mail. He went on to say, “I am not going to be intimidated by a bunch of bull__.”
         Requiring him to put up no-smoking signs, is, he reiterated, “very similar” to requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. “It might be smoking today, it might be Big Macs tomorrow, then Coca-Colas the next day, then Jack Daniel’s, then we’re in trouble.”
         Yes, he actually said that. …..
         Raese made his asinine remark in furtherance of his belief in small government. It is an ideology whose adherents habitually squander whatever appeal it might otherwise hold through extremist statements such as these. Surely reasonable people can debate the proper size and role of government. But one begins to believe people like Raese seek not small government, but no government. And that, putting it mildly, is bizarre.
         Worse, he compounds the sin by committing this act of violence against memory, this vandalism of simple respect. At one fell swoop, he manages to illustrate both American political extremism and American incapacity of reverence.
         He is hardly unique. ….. But anyone who understands what happened when Hitler was Hitler cannot help but decry such a monumental trivialization of atrocity. The crimes of the Nazi regime were singular, unprecedented in their sheer awfulness. Because of this, thoughtful observers draw Nazi parallels carefully and rarely if at all. And then there are the John Raeses of the world.
         For what it’s worth, the experience of a Jew in the Holocaust and a smoker in America are comparable in only one regard: the death toll. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews in 12 years. Cigarettes kill that many Americans every 13 and a half. Of course, a smoker has a choice. A Jew had none.
         And the idea of equating the two is ridiculous, offensive and unworthy of serious people. That should go without saying.
         The key word there being, ‘should.”

The above excerpt is 487 words. The original article is 643 words

2012-04-22: Smoke-free air laws equated to Hitler’s Nazi Germany by U.S. Senate candidate

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In 1995, former Tobacco Institute lobbyist, Victor Crawford, was interviewed on CBS-TV 60 Minutes, admitting that he did whatever it took to defeat legislative smoke-free air efforts, even if it meant lying, as long as he wasn’t under oath. He said he did this because his job was to win, in which he was very successful. Crawford said that he had coined the phrase “health Nazis” to attack his opponents, and frame them as over-the-top zealots taking away people’s basic freedoms.

The tactic hasn’t gone out of fashion, as evidenced by freedom-loving West Virginia U.S. Senate candidate, John Raese, running in this year’s election. A video of an April 12 appearance posted on Youtube shows the Morgantown Republican criticizing his home county’s indoor smoke-free air law. He said requiring stickers on buildings declaring them smoke-free is comparable to how “Hitler used to put a Star of David on everybody’s lapel.”

An Associated Press story published April 19, 2012, in the Washington Post titled Raese slammed by Jewish human rights group for invoking Hitler in smoking ordinance comment, also noted:

The Wisenthal Center on Thursday said the remark betrays an ignorance of the horrors inflicted by the Nazis and demonstrates callousness to the millions of Jews they murdered.

The Morgantown Republican said he does not care about the reaction by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and defended his statement as “reciting history.” The state Democratic Party’s chairman also criticized the comment.

In my view, likening smoke-free air laws to the Nazi persecution of Jews is despicable.

Here’s a 1:09 minute YouTube video clip of John Raese which inckudes these remarks:

2012-04-18 P-D Letters: “Public health heroes”

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a letter from me today which I wrote in support of a good newspaper editorial which had been attacked subsequently by letter writer Hugh Eastwood of St. Louis County.

After my letter appeared I got a call from an 80-year-old gentleman who had read it and wanted to suggest further arguments to use in favor of smoke-free air. He said: “For decades we’ve had laws against burning leaves. What are cigarettes and cigars and pipe tobacco if not leaves?”

I said I agreed with his logic and it’s an argument I have used from time to time, but I’ve observed over many years that logic often doesn’t apply when it comes to the issue of secondhand smoke pollution, as was evident in the April 10, 2012, Post-Dispatch article featuring Jefferson County and its high smoking rate.

I mentioned in my letter the cover photo used in an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s “Choice” newsletter in 1991 and I’ve appended it below.

Public health heroes

The April 10 editorial “Rugged and addicted” was the most comprehensive and logical I have read for some time on smoking addiction and the related subject of secondhand smoke pollution.
         A few days later, a letter writer claimed that many people ‘smoke for pleasure,” in direct denial of the proven fact that cigarettes are highly addictive. (A photo on the cover of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s “Choice” newsletter in 1991, showing shivering employees taking a smoking break in the snow, demonstrates this vividly.)
         He also argued unconvincingly that secondhand smoke pollution was somehow unique when compared to other health and safety issues, such as food preparation or building codes, and should not be subject to regulation.
         Smoke-free air laws are not a “failed war on drugs,” as he alleged.
         And the attempt to dismiss Clayton’s smoke-free air law an attempt to “impress the middle class” is nonsense, given that similar comprehensive ordinances have been enacted in Ballwin and Brentwood, for example.
         David Venable, the former Arnold city councilman, deserved plaudits and not abuse from residents for sponsoring that city’s first modern smoke-free air ordinance. Mr. Venable and similar elected officials are public health heroes.

Martin Pion • Ferguson
President, Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution

I believe a “reasonable smoking policy” for workplaces is to make them smoke-free and offer employees help to quit smoking.

Britney Morse (left), 20, and Julie French, 21, take smoke breaks after attending a court proceeding at the Jefferson County Court in Hillsboro on Monday, April 2, 2012. Both women began smoking as teenagers.
Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Letters to the editor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 2012
Perhaps people in Jefferson County just want to be left alone

The editorial “Rugged and addicted” (April 10) suggests that smoking is not about individual liberty and implies that the people of Jefferson County are deluded by “the tobacco industry’s long-discredited campaigns.”
         Yet the health and safety examples cited are either long-standing examples of commercial or product regulation or liberty rights for the disabled, not novel government intrusions into individual free choices.
         Many people smoke for pleasure despite knowing that it potentially can be bad for their health and wallet, and that it increasingly subjects them to stigma and snobbish disdain. Perhaps the people of Jefferson County find solace in Alexander Woollcott’s observation that “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral or fattening.”
         Having suffered more than most from the failed war on drugs, perhaps the good people of Jefferson County just want to be left alone. After all, in such yoga-and-latte locales as Clayton, one is no longer able to epater le bourgeois.

Hugh Eastwood • St. Louis County

Note: My wife tells me that epater le bourgeois means simply to “impress (or shock) the middle class.”

2012-04-10 P-D Editorial: “Jefferson County, the last refuge of the persecuted smoker”

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An editorial in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, a follow-up to yesterday’s story by reporter Leah Thorsen, was titled “Rugged and addicted. Our view – Jefferson County’s high smoking rate: It’s a freedom thing.” The editorial pointed out an unusual risk factor to explain the high adult smoking rate in Jefferson County: “rugged individualism.”

The editorial went on to argue persuasively why it was perfectly reasonable to legislate in favor of smoke-free air laws, and ended by focusing on the despicable behavior by some residents towards former Arnold councilman David Venable for authoring a modest smoke-free air ordinance some years ago.

Sometimes, people are there own worst enemies, but when you’re subject to a powerful addiction that can trump common sense.

Editorial: Jefferson County, the last refuge of the persecuted smoker
By the Editorial Board | Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:10 am |

R.J. Matson/Post-Dispatch, April 10, 2012

That 30 percent of adults in Jefferson County smoke tobacco products — as compared with an average of 24 percent in Missouri overall and 19 percent in the United States — raises a red flag for possible health problems. Monday’s troubling report by the Post-Dispatch’s Leah Thorsen suggests that some residents there don’t see it that way.
         Jefferson County’s smoking rate is among thousands of pieces of data compiled in this year’s county-by-county “Health Rankings and Roadmap” report from the University of Wisconsin’s Public Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
         Smoking rates fall under the report’s broader category of health behaviors, in which Jefferson County ranked 106 out of 115 Missouri counties. In our region, only Lincoln County (at 108th) and the city of St. Louis (at 110th) ranked worse.
         Other factors figuring in the health behavior rankings are rates for heavy and binge alcohol use, births to girls and young women ages 15 to 19, infection with sexually transmitted diseases, obesity and physical activity. The rates are culled from information at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
         Here’s a risk factor the report missed: rugged individualism.
         “They like to choose what they want to do and don’t want to do out here,” one Jefferson County smoker told Ms. Thorsen. The story cited historical feelings of “fear of government overreach and intrusion on personal choices” among people in the county.
         More than a decade into the 21st century, smoke from of the tobacco industry’s long-discredited campaigns against laws limiting smoking still wafts through the hills of Jefferson County.

Angie Lanfersieck, 25, who started smoking at age 15, takes a break outside the Jefferson County Court in Hillsboro Monday April 2, 2012.
Photo by Robert Cohen,

         Smoking is not a liberty issue; it’s a health issue. You have the right to smoke yourself into an early grave if you like, but your personal freedom to smoke ends when it ceases to be personal — that is, when the smoke wafts onto and into someone other than the smoker.
         Nor does any business that opens its doors to the public enjoy an unrestricted right to operate as its owner chooses. Restaurants and bars in particular — whose owners often fight against proposed smoking limits — routinely accommodate other rules and restrictions designed to protect public health and safety.
         These include occupancy limits, the installation of smoke detectors and fire-suppression systems, temperature specifications for handling meats and other perishables and separate preparation surfaces for cooked and uncooked foods.
         There are regulations governing the operation of slicing machines, sanitation practices by employees and restroom facilities for customers, access for people with disabilities, standards for electric service and plumbing systems and much, much more.
         Controlling toxic tobacco smoke is no more an abuse of government power than keeping customers and employees safe from lead dishware, flaming burners and undercooked chicken.
         Ms. Thorsen’s story, however, included one account of real abuse: the treatment heaped on David Venable during his past public service as a city councilman in Arnold. In 2004, he wrote the city’s smoking-control ordinance. Pioneering at the time, it was modest by today’s standards.
         Even so, Ms. Thorsen wrote, “People came out of their houses to scream and curse at him…. ‘It got to the point I was thankful my daughter was deaf,'” Mr. Venable said.
         Harassing a public servant walking with his child because you disagree with an ordinance? Most of the good people of Jefferson County have better sense.

2012-04-09 P-D: “Jefferson County leads area in smoking rate”

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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 • > 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.”