WU backs countywide smoking ban bill

| Copy Chief

Nearly four months after announcing a tobacco ban for all of its campuses, Washington University backed a St. Louis County Council bill on Tuesday that would put a countywide, public indoor smoking ban on the November ballot.

Robert Blaine, medical public policy specialist at the School of Medicine, said at Tuesday’s council meeting that the University applauded the council “for tackling the important public health issue of clean indoor air.”

“We encourage the council to keep this issue moving forward and to place a smoking ban that is as broad and as comprehensive as possible on the November ballot,” Blaine told the council. “We believe all individuals deserve the right to work in an environment free of secondhand smoke.”

The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, would put a smoking ban for all indoor public places in the county except bars and casinos on the November ballot.

The council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to move forward with the bill, and a final vote was to occur on Aug. 18.

But Fraser said Friday that the council will reintroduce the bill next Tuesday due to a procedural problem this past Tuesday that could open the bill to a legal challenge. The decision pushes a potential final vote to Aug. 25, likely causing the council to miss the deadline that same day for putting items on the ballot. In such a case, if County Executive Charles Dooley then signs the measure, the County Council must get a court order to put the measure on the ballot.

Fraser originally wanted a bill with no exemptions for casinos and bars, but that version did not have enough support from the seven-member council.

The University’s support for a countywide ban comes after the school announced a tobacco ban for all of its campuses, effective in July 2010.

While some in the school community praised the ban, others criticized the administration for approving the ban without student input. Student Union Senate passed a resolution late last school year objecting to the lack of student input.

Blaine was one of about 65 people to address the council at the heated three-hour meeting.

Supporters of the bill said a ban would improve public health by reducing patrons and workers’ exposure to secondhand smoke. Supporters maintained that a ban would not harm local businesses but attract some new customers, who avoid those places because they allow smoking.

Opponents, meanwhile, said that a ban would drive business away from the county and force some businesses to close. Opponents also said the ban would violate business owners’ right to choose whether to allow smoking.

Smoking bans have popped up across the region this summer. Clayton approved a public indoor smoking ban in July with no exemptions. Clayton’s ban goes into effect in July 2010.

Other cities considering bans include St. Louis, Kirkwood and Wildwood. St. Louis’ ban would go into effect only if St. Louis County approves its own.

Read Student Life this fall for full details on this story.

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