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I submitted two somewhat different versions of an OpEd last week to the Joplin Globe. They published one in the Jefferson City News Tribune with my original title: “The Missouri State Capitol’s come a long way, baby – But it’s not smoke-free yet.”
The second OpEd version, reproduced below, was published in the Joplin Globe with a different title. I’ve added graphics to this version plus live links for anyone wanting more background information.
Republicans need to ban all smoking in state capitol.
February 12, 2017
At this time of year state government employees in Jefferson City can be seen huddled outside their office buildings smoking while shivering in the cold. It’s a testament to the addictive power of legally available nicotine in cigarettes, despite being the leading cause of avoidable premature death.
Before 1992, those with private offices were smoking inside, but that year the Missouri Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA ) was passed. The late John Britton, the formidable lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute and dubbed the Mayor of Jefferson City, had inserted a requirement in the bill that all state institutions and state colleges must have smoking areas. Governor John Ashcroft was a staunch opponent of Big Tobacco at the time, and his legislative assistant, Mr. Phil Irons, cannily added language that such smoking areas must have adequate ventilation at minimum cost, a standard not attainable in practice.
Interestingly enough, lawmakers exempted one state building: the State Capitol housing their offices, and that’s the focus of this story.
I first began lobbying for a MCIAA in 1984 as a member of what was then called the Missouri Coalition on Smoking and Health. At the time the only “NO SMOKING” signs in the State Capitol were in the Visitor’s Gallery overlooking the House chamber.
I I was sitting there during a critical House vote on a proposed MCIAA on May 6th, 1987, when legislators opposed to smoke-free air deliberately lit up cigarettes and cigars. For protection, I donned a professional grade safety respirator, caught on camera by Associated Press photographer Dan Howell, who titled his photo “No Smoking Pleas.”
The smoking situation only changed significantly after St. Louis City resident, Ms. Vivian Dietemann, filed a formal complaint in January 1994, alleging that smoking prevented her from accessing the State Capitol due to her severe asthma, in violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
After extended delays, the House, Senate, and Office of Administration, which jointly control the building, adopted a sweeping smoking policy in December 1994. Mr. David A. Lieb featured it in a January 9th, 1995, AP story titled: ”Ash Canned: Lawmakers Set No-Smoking Policy.”
The House Smoking Policy, for example, made all public areas smoke-free, but exemptions included all legislators’ private offices.
In January 1995, Missouri GASP filed a formal ADA complaint seeking an entirely smoke-free State Capitol, and requesting a legally-required Self-Evaluation. As part of a lengthy process, surveys were completed in September 1997 by those named in the complaint, Dietemann, Sr. Luella Dames, and Mr. Don Young, overseen by Mr. Ted Wedel, General Counsel, House Research. (Young, a former smoker now needing an electrolarynx to speak, runs Young Choices Inc., discouraging youth smoking.)
Mrs. Helen Jaegers, working for a state Representative, was added to the complaint in January 1998. In April 1996 she had typed a letter to the Chief Clerk describing how State Capitol smoking exacerbated her severe asthma, resulting in frequent hospital trips. Before submitting the letter, an emergency room visit prompted her to hand write a postscript, concluding:
“I am so ready to wake up from this nightmare.”
This four year effort resulted in a February 5, 1999, Memorandum of Agreement between the State Capitol and Missouri GASP which still exempted legislators’ private offices from any smoking restrictions.
Since 1999, the only additional progress made was in January 2011 following an ADA complaint by Mr. Billy Williams of GASP of Texas on behalf of Ms. Rossie Judd, an asthmatic from Fenton, MO. Following the defeat of a Rules change proposal by then Rep. Jeanette Mott-Oxford to make the entire House smoke-free, the House Rules Committee made the Members’ Lounge adjoining the House chamber smoke-free. Legislators’ offices were again exempted.
“I believe the spirit of the Amendment is reasonable and is something we might decide to do. But the proper way to do it, in my opinion, is caucus position.”
The Republican caucus should do the right thing, as Majority Floor Leader Cierpiot has suggested, by voting to make the Smoke-Me House the Smoke-Free House.
Martin Pion is the president of Missouri GASP (Group Against Smoking Pollution) Inc.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.