Smoking bans
6:27 am
Mon January 2, 2012

One year later: City and County smoking bans

In the year since St. Louis City and County banned smoking in most bars and restaurants, some business owners say that exemptions to the ban have hurt their bottom line more than the ban itself.

Marty Ginsburg, owners of the Sports Page Bar in Chesterfield, says bars where smoking is permitted have an unfair advantage.

"If I had to do it again, I would still be against it," said Ginsburg. "But, what I should have done is what a lot of establishments have done where they can still smoke in there. I should have manipulated my numbers so I could have gotten a smoking permit."

Joe Finn, co-owner of Pat's Bar and Grill in Dogtown says he's lost at least 25 percent of his bar business in part to exempted bars, but has seen an upside too.

"I would say there are some people that feel easier bringing their kids into a bar," said Finn. "We're right next door to the zoo, so we do get more zoo traffic now than before."

Businesses in the county that make less than 25 percent of revenue from food can qualify for an exemption from the ban. The county's website lists 158 businesses where smoking is still permitted inside.

St. Louis County received more than half of its 241 smoking complaints in the first three months after the ban began.

Gerrin Cheek Butler, who handles complaints for the county health department, says violations since then have dropped dramatically.

"At the beginning, in January, we had close to a hundred complaints," said Cheek Butler. "This month [December] we've had about eight."

Violation complaints in St. Louis City have similarly declined with more than half of the 123 complaints occurring in the first quarter of the year.

Cheek Butler says the change is similar to previous public safety initiatives that now seem common-place.

"Now, if we see a kid in the car without a car seat, we think 'why is that kid not in a car seat?'," said Cheek Butler. "But in the 1970's it was very common to see kids without car seats. It's kind of a change in the social norm."

Cheek Butler says, of all the complaints to date, only one violation ticket has been issued in the county.