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Smoke-Me State Capitol, Jefferson City, Missouri
As is the norm, at the start of a new session of the Missouri Legislature following statewide elections, rules are adopted for the conduct of the House and the Senate. And as has happened before, when an attempt was made on Tuesday, January 10th, 2017, to remove smoking from the last place it’s still allowed on the House side of the State Capitol in Jefferson City – in Members’ offices – it was rejected by the House Rules Committee on a party-line vote. That’s despite the fact that all other state-controlled offices were made smoke-free in the 1992 Missouri Clean Indoor Air Act (see Section 191.767. 4. and note that’s because adequate ventilation to allow smoking at minimum cost is unfeasible).
The Associated Press, which has an office in the State Capitol, published a story picked up by news outlets both within Missouri and elsewhere in the U.S. I’m grateful to Mr. Stan Cowan of Jefferson City for that AP story (reproduced immediately below in blue), followed by the text of his testimony at the hearing. Finally, a review of some past history of the efforts of individuals and MoGASP to promote a smoke-free State Capitol.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) January 10, 2017
Missouri lawmakers have defeated an effort to ban smoking in state Capitol offices.
Smoking already is prohibited in Capitol hallways and legislative chambers. On Tuesday, a House rules committee heard testimony from several high school students and the Jefferson City Council urging legislators to ban smoking everywhere in the Capitol, including in offices.
But the panel’s Republican majority struck down a proposed amendment to the House rules on a 9-4 party-line vote.
Republican leaders dismissed concerns about secondhand smoke, saying the number of legislators smoking in offices was small in comparison to past years or decades.
Neighboring states such as Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas and Iowa have smoke-free capitols. Forty one states nationwide do not allow smoking anywhere in their capitol building.
Stan Cowan, the day after the hearing.
Testimony to Consent & House Procedure Committee
January 10, 2017
Stanley R. Cowan
In previous years, I tried presenting medical facts on the health impact of secondhand smoke to persuade the House Rules Committee of the need to discontinue needlessly exposing their colleagues, employees and visitors to this proven cause of heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases.
Despite several Surgeon General reports citing thousands of scientific studies spanning more than 30 years, it has become apparent that the Rules Committee was not impressed with the medical evidence nor about harming the health of others in the Capitol building.
In promoting a healthier community, the city council of Jefferson City passed a resolution in 2013 encouraging the House Majority Caucus to adopt a smoke-free office policy “for the sake of the health of our citizens that work in the Capitol building, for visiting constituents, and for our children.”[i]
Last year, Rep. Sheila Solon (R-31, Blue Springs) introduced HB1669, an ethics reform bill that would limit possession and consumption of alcohol on capitol grounds except for special events, and would prohibit use of tobacco products in the capitol building. She was quoted in the Kansas City Star as noting,
“There’s a feeling of entitlement among (legislators) that we’re somehow special. The public can’t drink and smoke in the building, so why can we? I mean, come on, this is a workplace. How many people are allowed to drink and smoke in their workplace?”
The news story concluded with a statement from Rep. Gina Mitten (D-83, St Louis),
“The Capitol is a public building and workplace, and the legislature needs to set a good example as a healthy and safe workplace.”[ii]
HB1669 was scheduled for a February 1, 2016 hearing by the Oversight & Accountability Committee, but then was cancelled with no reason given and never re-scheduled.
Several newspapers have printed editorials in support of a policy for a smoke-free capitol building. [iii],[iv],[v],[vi],[vii],[viii]
The Joplin Globe took this a step further in January of 2015 with an online poll for the following question.
“Republicans in the Missouri Legislature this past week voted to allow their members to smoke in their offices, even though the Capitol is a public building where smoking is not permitted. Do you care if they smoke in their offices?”
The response was 73% did care if legislators smoked in their office, 27% did not care.[ix]
Two years ago, when attempting to testify before this same committee, I was cut short by Chairman Engler’s quick interruption of two main points:
- Could I name any other job where people put in as long hours as do the legislators when in session?
Actually, there are 41 examples of exactly the same jobs where smokefree policies are the norm. These are for the legislators, staff and other workers in the state capitol buildings in Topeka, Little Rock, Des Moines, Springfield, etc. for a total of 41 state capitol buildings with smokefree policies. These include 7 of Missouri’s 8 bordering states.[x] Missouri is in the minority in not providing this simple and basic courtesy toward protecting people from this known health risk. A smokefree policy has worked in these other 41 state capitols, it can work in Missouri, too.
There are more legislators and staff that do not smoke, and thus should be protected from the entirely preventable risk to their health presented by secondhand smoke. Legislators addicted to nicotine have a wide variety of non-combustible nicotine products to satisfy their craving without polluting the air. In fact, some of these nicotine products, such as orbs and gelatin strips, can be used away from the legislator’s office, meaning the legislator would not be compelled to return to his/her office for a smoke when the nicotine craving occurs away from the office.
- “Ice cream served in the Capitol Rotunda kills more people in this House than nicotine.”[xi]
Since 1965, every package of tobacco products have been required to carry a Surgeon General’s warning on the health impact. No such health warning is required for containers of ice cream. Ice cream, consumed in moderation, is not a health risk to most people (there is even a special ice cream safe for consumption by diabetics). Tobacco, even for light or occasional users, is not safe. Every single cigarette causes harm; every exposure to secondhand smoke causes harm.
A person consuming ice cream will not cause a health risk to people nearby. A person smoking tobacco does not only impact his/her own health, but also the health of everyone in the area.
After my attempted testimony before that committee two years ago, I was approached by a legislative aide who informed me the real air quality problem in the capitol building was mold and intimated I should direct my concerns to that issue.
The legislature responded to the mold problem and appropriated of funding for remediation work. However, the elimination of air pollution from secondhand smoke can be accomplished with no appropriation of any tax dollars whatsoever. It merely takes the political will to do what is right.
Let’s take to heart an inscription on our state seal which is engraved in one of the walls of the Capitol – Salus populi suprema lex esto – “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.” A smoke-free policy for “the people’s house” honors the welfare of the people; the status quo does not.
(For References, please see bottom of this blog.)
In the past, Missouri GASP has worked with other individuals to promote a smoke-free State Capitol, with varying degrees of success.
Ms. Vivian Dietemann of the City of St. Louis is owed a large debt of gratitude for taking action leading to a substantial reduction in smoking in the State Capitol. She initially wrote to then-Attorney General Jay Nixon in October 1993, and followed up with a detailed formal four page discrimination complaint dated January 9th, 1994.
The complaint alleged that allowing smoking in the State Capitol prevented her from accessing the building due to her severe asthma, exacerbated by exposure to secondhand smoke, in violation of both the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Ms. Dietemann’s complaint was forwarded to the three entities controlling the building: the House, the Senate, and the Office of Administration (OA). After some discussion and delay, it resulted in a major change from no smoking restrictions to a sweeping smoking policy being formally adopted in December 1994.
The House Smoking Policy, for example, made all public areas smoke-free, as well as House Hearing Rooms, the House Chamber, and the House Lounge. This was reported in a January 9, 1995, AP story (reproduced below) by David A. Lieb headlined “Ash Canned: Lawmakers Set No-Smoking Policy.”
To view an enlarged version of the above story please click the following link:
An additional complaint was filed by Missouri GASP in January 1995 on behalf of Vivian Dietemann and two other smoke-sensitive individuals, Sr. Luella Dames and Don Young, a laryngectomy survivor and former smoker, seeking an entirely smoke-free building and requesting a Self-Evaluation, as required by the ADA. Mr. Ted Wedel, General Counsel, House Research in the House of Representatives, was charged with overseeing the Self-Evaluation. As part of that process, Dietemann, Dames and Young each completed a survey in my home in Ferguson on September 8th, 1997, overseen by Mr. Wedel. The event was captured in the accompanying photo.
Standing are Vivian Dietemann and Don Young, with a neck scarf covering the stoma in his neck through which he breathes. Seated are Sr. Luella Dames, with an inhaler on her lap, and Ted Wedel, General Counsel, House Research.
Mrs. Helen Jaegers was added to the complaint in January 1998. She was then a Jefferson City resident working for a Representative in the State Capitol. In April 1996 she wrote to the Chief Clerk of the House describing how her severe asthma was exacerbated by workplace smoking, resulting in frequent hospital visits. Following an emergency room visit, she added a P.S.:
“I am so ready to wake up from this nightmare.”
This time-consuming effort, spanning just over four years, resulted in a February 5, 1999, Memorandum of Agreement between the House, Senate, Office of Administration, and Missouri GASP, identifying areas in the building which would be smoke-free. This included those already so designated and two building entrances. Additionally “all staff offices open to the public are designated as non-smoking.” The Memorandum is reproduced below.
The last small but significant step forward was taken at the beginning of the 2011 session when the Members’ Lounge adjoining the House chamber became smoke-free after a vote of the House Rules Committee. Before that change, smoke would drift into the chamber, especially whenever the door was opened.
Mr. Billy Williams 2004
Ms. Rossie Judd 2004
This accompanied a major but ultimately unsuccessful effort to make the entire House of Representatives smoke-free, led by former state Rep. Jeanette Mott-Oxford, based on an ADA complaint filed by Mr. Billy Williams, Executive Director of GASP of Texas, on behalf of Ms. Rossie Judd, from Fenton, MO.
Testimony to Consent & House Procedure Committee
January 10, 2017
Stanley R. Cowan – References:
[i] RS2013-32, Resolution Supporting the House Majority Caucus Adoption of a Policy to Prohibit Smoking Within the Offices of Its Members, City of Jefferson, December 3, 2013.
[ii] Jason Hancock, Missouri lawmaker pushes to ban alcohol, smoking in Capitol, January 22, 2016, Kansas City Star, http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article56120635.html
[iii] No-smoking exemption invites public scorn, January 18, 2013, Jefferson City News Tribune, http://epaper.wehco.com/daily/skins/JeffersonCity/
[iv] House GOP moves to retain smoking, avoid the heat, February 8, 2013, Jefferson City News Tribune, http://epaper.wehco.com/daily/skins/JeffersonCity/
[v] Live by the laws, Sunday, January 18, 2015, Joplin globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com/opinion/columns/our-view-live-by-the-laws/article_763d1f16-32cf-5aab-9edf-fdf253f6295b.html
[vi] Missouri Laws Should Apply to Lawmakers, February 21, 2016, Joplin Globe http://www.joplinglobe.com/opinion/columns/our-view-missouri-laws-should-apply-to-lawmakers/article_6ab89368-9d79-5fc5-8873-dbe7ac67677b.html
[vii] Lawmakers have not earned added responsibilities, February 24, 2016, Jefferson City News Tribune, http://www.newstribune.com/news/2016/feb/24/our-opinion-lawmakers-have-not-earned-added-respon/
[viii] Self-interest must play no role in Capitol stewardship, April 24, 2016, Jefferson City News Tribune,http://www.newstribune.com/news/2016/apr/24/our-opinion-self-interest-must-play-no-role-capito/
[x] The exception is Kentucky
[xi] Virginia Young, Missouri House rules spread power but won’t ban smoking in offices, 2015-01-13T15:00:00Z 2015-01-13T20:16:09Z Missouri House rules spread power but won’t ban smoking in officesBy Virginia Young firstname.lastname@example.org 573-556-6181 stltoday.com January 13, 2013, St Louis Post Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/virginia-young/missouri-house-rules-spread-power-but-won-t-ban-smoking/article_f6850124-361f-5800-8a02-e8724b515dfb.html