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Council Joe Cronin’s latest proposal for a smoke-free air bill in St. Charles County got mixed reactions at the county council meeting on Monday, despite his best efforts to assuage critics, while hoping supporters of secondhand smoke legislation will remain on board.
from everything that’s going to hurt them
It remains to be seen where this will go, given the inability of opponents to view this issue as they do other public nuisances or issues affecting the public health and welfare.
Below is the story by reporter Mark Schlinkmann, followed by letters from both Councilman Joe Cronin, clarifying some points in his bill, and Bill Hannegan, lauding Councilman Cronin’s initiative while describing more comprehensive local smoke-free air regulations as “Draconian.”
September 09, 2013 11:05 pm • By Mark Schlinkmann firstname.lastname@example.org 636-255-723330
ST. CHARLES COUNTY • Almost a year after a judge blocked its last plan for a countywide smoking ban, the St. Charles County Council began discussing a new version on Monday night. But it wasn’t immediately clear what the outcome would be.
“I want to make the county a healthier place while preserving business rights,” said the sponsor, Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul.
An opponent, Councilman Joe Brazil, R-Defiance, called the bill “another way of whittling away that stick of freedom … that gets smaller and smaller and smaller.”
The proposal would ban smoking in all businesses and other enclosed public places except those off limits to people under age 21 as customers or employees.
That would exempt gambling areas at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles and bars in most parts of the county. Cronin also emphasizes that other businesses also could choose to be exempt by imposing the age restriction. An example, he said, might be an auto parts store where most of the customers are adults.
Harold Ellis, the acting county counselor, said the bill also would allow a restaurant or other business to go smoke-free but operate an adjoining 21-and-older bar if separated by walls and doors.
Unlike past council-endorsed bans, Cronin’s new bill wouldn’t go before voters at an election. Instead, it would become law if it wins approval of the council and County Executive Steve Ehlmann. Ehlmann and the county health director, Julie Eckstein, didn’t take a position on the bill Monday.
Besides Cronin, two councilmen indicated they might support it. However, each said they still wanted to put whatever the council devised on the issue before voters.
Brazil was joined by another councilman in opposing the bill. Two others said they were undecided, although one of them, Mike Elam, R-Dardenne Prairie, said he was wary of a tendency of government to try “to protect everybody from everything that’s going to hurt them.”
Sharon Lee, who directs the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, spoke in favor.
“Some may say (the bill) doesn’t go far enough, but we have to start somewhere,” she said.
Carol Gold, owner of the South 94 Bistro in St. Peters, complained that the bill would pick “winners and losers” among businesses. “It should be our choice to decide” on smoking, she said. Also opposed was Dave Beckering, president of the St. Charles City Council, who said there wasn’t any consensus countywide on the issue.
The new bill would apply both to unincorporated areas and municipalities. However, cities could enact stricter laws, and current ones in place in O’Fallon and Lake Saint Louis would remain. Those two cities have no exceptions for bars.
Last year, the County Council approved putting two propositions before voters. One was a countywide ban with no exceptions and the other an exemption bill with the 21-and-older limit. Each was kept off the November ballot by a judge who ruled that the council didn’t comply with proper procedures.
Letters, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 11, 2013:
Regarding “New smoking ban effort is under way in St. Charles County” (Sept. 7):
As the author of the bill noted in your article, I would like to make several clarifications that were not expressed by your writer. The most important being that under this proposed law, all businesses have a choice as to whether they become a smoking establishment or a smoke-free establishment. They need only post a readily available sign to let the public know their smoking status. But, if they allow smoking on their premises, they would have to ban admittance to those under age 21 as secondhand smoke is a known public health threat.
Additionally, if a business chose to have an indoor area for smokers and nonsmokers, this law allows it as long as the areas are separated by walls and doors, have separate outside entrances, and separate ventilation systems.
Also, administration, interpretation and implementation of this law is not handled by elected officials, but placed in the hands of the Department of Community Health and the Environment. And the benefit of having this law implemented by ordinance, instead of a vote of the people with a county charter amendment, is that this law can be changed by future elected councils to serve the residents at that time.
The bill was crafted to address secondhand smoke, a known public health threat that kills 1,100 Missourians per year, while allowing businesses a choice and the smallest possible impact on property rights.
Hopefully, it is a compromise that most St. Charles County residents and businesses can literally live with.
County Councilman Joe Cronin • St. Charles County
Letters, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Saturday, September 21, 2013:
The St. Charles County Council should take a hard look at Councilman Joe Cronin’s new public smoking ordinance (“St. Charles County discusses new proposal for smoking ban,” Sept. 10). Unlike his previous proposals, this ordinance is really not a true smoking ban. Rather it is public smoking regulation that attempts to keep kids away from smoke while respecting the free choice of business owners.
Under this ordinance, any business owner can still allow indoor smoking as long as specified measures are taken to keep minors separate from smoke. Cronin rightly points out that if enacted such comparatively mild regulation might forestall the Draconian smoking ban St. Charles County bar and casino owners so strongly fear.
Bill Hannegan • St. Louis