2013-02-07 P-D: “Bar owners weigh in on move to eliminate smoking ban exemptions in St. Louis County”

It’s interesting how opponents of smoke-free air, which is first and foremost about health and wellness, always manage to cloud the issue by injecting totally irrelevant arguments. Why bring in “economics,” unless it would be very expensive to enforce and the law would be ineffective?

Smoke-free air laws are typically among the most self-enforcing of laws due to the large number of nonsmokers in the population now: roughly 80% of adults don’t smoke in Missouri.

If you’re going to talk about freedom, fairness and personal responsibility, as this article does, that’s fine.

* It should be freedom from smoke pollution.

*Fairness, so that anyone, smoker and nonsmoker, can work in or enter the premises without having to breathe smoke-polluted air.

*And personal responsibility: smokers can refrain from smoking while in a smoke-free environment, or find an alternative for satisfying their nicotine craving. It’s the norm in so many places now: this is NOT rocket science!

It’s disappointing to hear Councilman O’Mara being swayed by stories from bar owners claiming to predict their future peril if they go smoke-free. No one’s health and welfare should be put at risk by such arguments.

Bar owners weigh in on move to eliminate smoking ban exemptions in St. Louis County
By Paul Hampel phampel@post-dispatch.com 314-727-623426

CLAYTON • Bar owners talked about freedom, fairness and personal responsibility as they spoke out Wednesday about a proposal before the St. Louis County Council to eliminate almost all exemptions to the countywide smoking ban.
         Most who spoke hold such exemptions; a few others do not.
         Both sides argued that the matter boiled down to economics.
         “If you remove the exemptions, you’re going to put people out of business,” said Jim Schmitt, who owns Schmitt’s Bar & Grill in Overland.
         Tim Tucker, whose Locker Room bar in Florissant does not have an exemption, said, “Exemptions have hurt my business. It’s not fair that one bar can do something that my bar cannot.”
         The owners attended the meeting at the invitation of County Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, who introduced a bill last month to remove the exemptions. Establishments are eligible for exemptions if food sales total less than 25 percent of the annual total sales of food and beverage. The ordinance also exempted gambling floors at casinos.
         After the meeting, O’Mara said that some owners had made an impression on him.
         “I am concerned for these little bar owners. I wonder if there isn’t an option for them (to keep exemptions) based on square footage, no food (served) or if they only let in people over 21.”
         O’Mara said he wanted to create a level playing field for all business owners.
         Exemptions are currently held by 135 establishments and the county’s two gambling venues, River City Casino and Hollywood Casino St. Louis.
         In its current form, the bill leaves in place exemptions for private residences; private clubs; performers on stage in theatrical productions; nursing homes and similar institutions; retail tobacco businesses; and permanently designated smoking rooms in hotels.
         Some owners agreed with the idea of a level playing field — though perhaps not in the way O’Mara intended it.
         “Remove the ban completely for all drinking establishments,” Carol Fallert, owner of the Brew House in Maryland Heights, suggested to O’Mara.
         Derek Deaver, who owns Deaver’s Restaurant in Florissant and Three Kings Public House in the Delmar Loop, advised, “Either allow smoking everywhere or nowhere.”
         Craig Robinson, vice president of finance at Hollywood Casino (formerly Harrah’s) in Maryland Heights, asserted that eliminating exemptions would hurt the bottom line by encouraging smokers to leave the casino floor to puff outside or to take their business elsewhere.
         “Ameristar is less than a mile away as the crow flies,” Robinson said, referring to the nearby casino in St. Charles where smoking is allowed.
         Robinson said O’Mara’s plan would cut his casino’s revenue by 20 percent. In turn, he said, that would lead to tax revenue cuts of $9.7 million to the Pattonville School District and $3.2 million to the city of Maryland Heights.
         However, Don Hart, who owns Maryland Yards bar in Maryland Heights, asked that O’Mara not give special treatment to the casinos.
         “If you’re going to take (exemptions) away from the 135 bars, take it away from the boats,” Hart said.
         O’Mara said he would hold additional hearings for the general public before moving forward with the bill.

5 responses to “2013-02-07 P-D: “Bar owners weigh in on move to eliminate smoking ban exemptions in St. Louis County”

  1. MoGASP, you wrote, “Why bring in “economics,” unless it would be very expensive to enforce and the law would be ineffective?”

    The Antismokers bring in economics all the time, and lie about them as well, when they push the whole “Smokers are costing the taxpayers money for health care argument. Following the conclusions from the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere, even from a time period when cigarette taxes were less than a quarter of what they are today, smokers are SAVING nonsmokers over 200 **BILLION** dollars/year in taxes. Yes, a lot of that is due to earlier deaths, which is clearly a bad thing, BUT… if the Antismokers want to vilify smokers on the basis of an economics argument they have to accept the economics argument HONESTLY… in its entirety.

    And they refuse to.

    And then they also lie in their claims that the ban will not hurt bar biz. Want me to share some info on that as well?

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

    mogasp comment: Frankly, I hate bringing in economics or these other arguments which would never be an issue with many/any other environmental pollutants, e.g asbestos, but it seems we cannot get away from them, thanks to our opponents’ strategies.

  2. Sorry! Meant to include the NEJM info link: http://TinyURL.com/SmokingCosts

    – MJM

  3. Actually, it’s not totally unreasonable to bring in the economics. The casino folks are saying the ban would bring “tax revenue cuts of $9.7 million to the Pattonville School District and $3.2 million to … Maryland Heights.” which, in effect, is the same as saying it would cost taxpayers $13Mil (plus the tax losses of a significant cut in casino employment hours etc) plus likely tax losses from the closed bars and the taxes of their workers and the unemployment expenses. The total would likely be a MINIMUM of $20Mil, though I think $30Mil would be more realistic.

    Should the voters and their Councilors be concerned about what will likely amount to a $30Mil STL tax increase? If the Council or Smoke-Free STL say the losses won’t occur, are they willing to sign legal documents paying them out of their own personal pockets if they DO occur? That would certainly dissolve a lot of the ban opposition obviously, so if they’re telling the truth, why would they hesitate?

    – MJM

    mogasp reply: I’d point out that this is pure speculation, designed to put fear in the minds of council members.

  4. OSHA and the EPA estimate the economic impact of every regulation they impose on business. The agencies will reconsider a regulation if the economic impact proves too great.

  5. Mogasp, you wrote, ” I’d point out that this is pure speculation, designed to put fear in the minds of council members.” Possibly quite true, although I would expect that people who have enough business acumen to run casinos probably examine things like studies of how other casinos have done after bans.

    If we assume that they ARE at least as competent as the guy who runs the pizza-shop down at the corner, then what possible reason could they conceivably have for wanting to “put fear in the minds of council members,” OTHER than the fact that their research showed severe economic losses occurring as a result of bans?

    Seriously, can you think of any other motivation for them?

    – MJM

    mogasp reply: I think it’s just easier for businesses to maintain the status quo. If the law changes to eliminate secondhand smoke, then they have no choice but to adapt to it.

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