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I submitted the following OpEd for consideration for publication on May 8 after originally contacting the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 6 and asking if they would consider it. I was hoping that it would appear before the May 20th third and final hearing into St. Charles City’s Smoke-Free Air Act, which was expected to have many exemptions.
The OpEd was published in today’s newspaper, so it should still be timely.St. Charles city and county need smoke-free air
After significant local progress in protecting the public and employees from secondhand smoke, St. Charles city and county remain behind the times. Recently scheduled public hearings regarding a possible St. Charles city Smoke-Free Air Act appear motivated not to further public health but to counter efforts by St. Charles County Councilman Joe Cronin, who has twice tried to get a countywide smoke-free air referendum on the ballot.
St. Charles City favors less restrictive legislation, for example allowing smoking on the Ameristar Casino gaming floor, in workplaces prohibiting anyone under age 21, and any place where smoking is limited to a ventilated or enclosed smoking room.
Cronin’s efforts nearly succeeded last year when a two-part referendum he had sponsored, the first part proposing no exemptions, appeared headed for the November ballot. After being blocked by County Elections Director Rich Chrismer, Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution, a grass-roots not-for-profit, filed a lawsuit to reinstate the referendum. Don Young, a laryngectomy survivor and former smoker living in St. Charles, was named as the plaintiff. The lawsuit was opposed primarily by the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles. Circuit Judge Ted House ruled against Young on Sept. 25, 2012, after a daylong hearing.
St. Charles city has never been progressive on this issue, going back to September 1988, when Councilman Tom Bailey introduced St. Charles city’s first smoke-free air legislation. It was patterned after Clayton’s ordinance, which was among the first in the metro area, and was quite modest by today’s standards. For example, it simply required separate smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants.
The Tobacco Institute, headquartered in Washington, D.C., mobilized to defeat this effort. They hired a Jefferson City lobbyist who met with local businesspeople strongly opposed to the bill, and flew in Brennan Dawson Moran, assistant to the Tobacco Institute’s president, to a hearing of the city’s public safety committee.
Her 11-page testimony dismissed the landmark U.S. surgeon general’s 1986 report, “The Health Consequence of Involuntary Smoking,” as “a seriously flawed misrepresentation of the science.” City Councilman Rory Ridler claimed enforcing it would be a nuisance for the police department, and that public pressure and common sense would take care of the problem in places such as restaurants and grocery stores.
After the hearing, the committee voted down the ordinance, 5 to 1.
On Dec. 24, 1988, the New York Times ran a comprehensive story “Cigarette Industry Financing Wide War on Smoking Bans.” It detailed the Tobacco Institute’s nationwide strategy of opposing smoke-free air laws, including St. Charles.
Councilman Tom Bailey is quoted as saying: “I felt blindsided. I thought the council would want to discuss the issue, as we do with garage-sale ordinances and street-light requests. Instead I got smacked and told to get back to my place. When someone flies in from Washington, D.C., it’s pretty heavy-handed. At the hearing it was motherhood and apple pie and smokers, and anyone who said differently was not a nice person.’’
Returning to the present, the overwhelming concern of St. Charles City Council is evidently protecting its income from gambling boat patrons. Like the Ameristar, the city believes that if the casino were required to go smoke-free, it would drive away all their smoking customers. That fear takes precedence over the health and safety of nonsmoking employees and patrons.
An independent peer-reviewed study, published in the international journal Tobacco Control on June 20, 2011, refutes the casino’s concern of lost smoker revenue. The study, by lead author Jenine K. Harris of Washington University in St. Louis, examined casino admissions in Illinois in the year before and after its casinos went smoke-free as a result of the Smoke-free Illinois Act. It compared that data with data for adjoining states, including Missouri, which allows casino smoking. Its conclusion is summed up in the paper’s title:
Exempting casinos from the Smoke-free Illinois Act will not bring patrons back: they never left.
St. Charles city and county councils should show leadership by making public places and workplaces smoke-free. Everybody wins, except the tobacco industry.
Martin Pion of Ferguson is president of MoGASP (Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution) Inc.