University-backed smoking ban referendum to appear on ballot

| Copy Chief

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley signed a bill on Friday to put a Washington University-backed smoking ban referendum on the November ballot, following weeks of heated County Council meetings and public debate.

“If you had asked me two months ago if I thought the voters in St. Louis County would have this opportunity in November, I would have said no,” said Robert Blaine, a medical public policy specialist at the University. “So I think it’s a significant step forward.”

The signature virtually assures the ban will go on the county ballot, meaning students registered to vote in Missouri who live west of the Brookings parking lot can vote on it. The bill’s sponsor, County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, has said the final step of getting a court order is a formality.

The final bill, its third version, will ask voters if they want to ban smoking in most indoor public places in the county. The ban would exempt bars—places where 75 percent of sales come from alcohol—casino floors and smoking lounges at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Areas west of the Brookings lot, including a major chunk of the Delmar Loop, would fall under the ban.

On Aug. 4, the University pushed the County Council to put as comprehensive a ban on the ballot as possible. That day, the council was considering the first two bill versions: one with and one without exemptions for bars and casinos only.

Despite the final bill’s exemptions, Blaine said the University supports the ban going on the ballot and letting voters decide the issue.

“I think the University would encourage any individual to educate themselves about this issue and make a decision on their own,” Blaine said.

Many in the school community are in favor of the ban going on the ballot. Some have also praised the University for supporting a ballot measure and planning to go tobacco free in July 2010.

Still, some on campus remain unhappy with the University’s tobacco ban, saying officials failed to weigh student input before announcing it.

The University’s support of the referendum has sparked some debate over how much student input school officials should seek when taking a stance on local issues.

“The issue of student input on these sorts of decisions is an interesting thing we should look into more,” said senior Chase Sackett, speaker of the Student Union Senate, which passed a resolution last April decrying the lack of student input that went into the school’s tobacco ban.

The ballot measure will likely face an uphill battle because there are opponents on both sides of the debate. Smoking ban opponents, including a coalition of business owners led by Bill Hannegan of Keep St. Louis Free, worry a ban would drive business from St. Louis County.

Some supporters of a comprehensive smoking ban, including the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Society, oppose the ballot measure because they say it’s too weak. They also say the county will have trouble working its way up to a strong ban if it enacts a weak ban first.

“Tobacco Free Missouri is disappointed that it’s not a comprehensive law,” Nancy Mueller, chair of Tobacco Free Missouri statewide coalition, said Tuesday night. “I think that the county is not setting the precedent and the model that the rest of the state should be following.”

Mueller also said she’s glad to see the University go tobacco free and hopes the county will consider passing a stricter ban.

Fraser initially favored the first bill version, which had no exemptions, but the council voted it down on Aug. 4. After she amended the bill that same day to include the exemptions for bars and casinos, the council voted 4-3 to move it to a final vote.

But then Fraser opted to reintroduce the bill on Aug. 11 due to worries that a procedural problem at the Aug. 4 meeting would open the bill to legal challenge. The reintroduction, which added the airport exemption, caused the council to miss its deadline last Tuesday for putting items on the November ballot without a court order.

Public-health groups opposing the ballot measure preferred the bill version without exemptions. Their opposition could be a major blow to the ban’s chances of passing. The low turnout characteristic of off-year elections could also harm the ban’s chances.

It’s unclear, though, how the vote will be affected by the special election that day to replace former state Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton, who resigned last Tuesday due to a federal corruption scandal.

The county ban would take effect in January 2011.

  • SK

    Businesses will invariably pay the price for this social agenda. Do you think this is a good idea during a recession? Much like environmental changes, they are best done in times of prosperity, otherwise things go from bad to worse economically and who gets the blame? Next thing you know you have clear-cutting and strip-mining instead of incremental, symbiotic development.

    Translation: If you put a nail in the coffin of ailing businesses, then you have zero support the next time a really important public health concern arises.

  • marbee

    This will be one more place I will NOT visit if a ban is passed. The world seems to be shrinking for me, but I still have places I can spend my money and it will NOT be in a smoking ban nanny place!

  • Bob

    Once the ban lobbyists find gullible lawmakers and get the first phase passed, they’ll be back for more. Now that Fast Eddies spent thousands to build a patio, that will be banned too. It’s all on page seven near the bottom as the “inside out” provision of the tobacco control rulebook. Most people are not aware that a well financed “war on smokers” even exists. That was our downfall in Illinois. We all had the lax attitude, “California fruits and nuts, good for them. No way it will happen in Chicago.”

  • gene

    Just a reminder of the source of spam:

    generalsn is no ordinary commenter, but a classic spammer.

    His technique–flood every message board in the country, so that his lies can be repeated so often they look as if they just _might_ be true, and just _might_ represent a legitimate portion of the populace. Readers may be fooled that this commenter is actually a fanatic (or paid spammer) on a mission.

    It seems almost a full-time job on generalsn’s part. He seems part of this weird cabal of maybe 20 people who post such nonsense on smoking bans. Are these spammers paid by PR firms? Tobacco companies? Do they own a convenience store or a ventilation company? Who else would spend so much time posting such arrant nonsense–yet never, ever show up out in the open, at legislative hearings?

    This is the technique of the raving fanatics, the unethical, the Holocaust Deniers, the Flat Earthers.

    Or the paid PR mavens.

    And spammers like generalsn will destroy message boards as surely as they destroyed newsgroups in the ’90s.

  • David

    New York, Paris, Chicago, Kansas City… what do they all have in common? They have smoke free bars and restaurants! How is it that St. Louis County business groups seriously think they are going to lose money when in truth they will only gain more customers? Look at the example with Fast Eddy’s in Alton, IL. After the smoking ban they created an out door deck and their business has increased 20% according to radio reports.

  • Bob

    Just a reminder of the sources of the bans, more concerned with “social change” than the bans themselves:

    And what the 99 million dollars was going to. Note on page seven the “inside -out”, provision going for patios later, AFTER business owners spend thousands of dollars to accommodate their smoking customers, clearly showing that they have ABSOLUTLY NO CONCERN about local issues or businesses.

    Here’s the “model ban” from page eight that many communities copied, pasted, and passed. It’s the “smoking ban for dummies” It only takes a few minutes to fill in the blanks naming your community, the administrators names, and blanks to customize it to your community according to the width of your sidewalks, so it looks like local leaders worked tirelessly for extended time to originate it.

  • Bob

    Be careful of the fine print on the ballot. The tax exempt American Cancer Society tricked the voters of Ohio into voting for a ban with exemptions, only to have them removed AFTER they were voter approved. If they got away with it once, you know they will do it again. Thank you American Cancer Society, we never knew all you do. The private vets clubs of Ohio who thought they were exempt according to the ballot learned what they do. I’m sure they are remembering them with with their donations and estate plans.