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Anti-smoking advocates urge 'no' vote on limited ban in St. Charles County

An ashtry can be seen on the counter of Quintessential Dinging and Nightlife on  October 16, 2018
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Charles County voters will decide in November whether to make some public places in the county smoke-free. Advocates are urging a no vote, saying the measure doesn't go far enough.

Anti-smoking advocates in the St. Louis region will be encouraging their supporters to vote no next month on a proposed smoking ban in St. Charles County because they say it doesn’t go far enough.

“The way our coalition is organized, we really can’t support a measure that picks winners and losers,” said Ben Murray, an organizer with Show Me Smoke Free, a group pushing for complete bans on smoking in public places. “We believe that every single worker has the right to breathe clean air, and we’re going to fight to support measures that make that a reality wherever we can, whenever we can.”

Show Me Smoke Free launched successful petition drives to put so-called “strong” bans on the ballot in St. Louis and St. Charles counties. The bans covered all public places, without exception. About 34,000 people signed petitions in St. Charles County, and 51,000 in St. Louis County.

But a judge threw St. Louis County’s measure off the ballot on technical grounds, a decision upheld without comment by the Missouri Court of Appeals. Because of deadlines to print and mail overseas ballots, voters will see the complete ban on their ballots, but votes won’t be counted. A second proposal, endorsed by the gaming companies, would ban smoking in parts of St. Louis County’s two casinos.

Election officials in St. Charles County threw Show Me Smoke Free’s petition out on technical grounds, and also rejected an attempt by the St. Charles County Council to put a complete ban on the ballot legislatively.

The proposal that St. Charles voters will consider instead has a number of exemptions, including:

  • Bars that ban anyone under the age of 21 at all times
  • Any area within a bar or restaurant that is physically separated from the non-smoking area and has separate ventilation
  • Membership clubs like the American Legion
  • Cigar bars and retail tobacco stores
  • Non-enclosed patios, as long as the smoke cannot get into the enclosed area
  • Any casino, as long as smoking is prohibited on at least 50 percent of the gaming floor
  • Private property or vehicles, as long as the property is not being used for public purposes
  • Commercial vehicles
  • Licensed research facilities doing smoking-related research

“When we looked at that law being proposed, it had four pages of exemptions,” said Karen Englert, government relations director for the American Heart Association of Missouri. “It absolutely picks winners and losers, and that’s not how public health should be done.”
Approving the proposal, Englert said, will set public health efforts in St. Charles County back a decade.

“It would take an average of seven to 10 years to get a better version of that, and in that time, that’s thousands of people dying, and that’s not okay,” she said.

Eric Sohn, general manager at Quintessential Dining and Nightlife, said he’s worried the ultimate losers will be the bars along North Main Street, which are already taking a hit with a new liquor license ordinance — especially since smoking will still be allowed at Ameristar Casino.

“I think there’s 15 liquor licenses, or 17 liquor licenses, on the street, and only one of them doesn’t serve food,” he said, meaning the others allow minors at certain times. “So I guess that’s saying that’s there’s only only place on Main Street that you would be able to smoke.”

The rooftop bar and patio at Quintessential Dining and Nightlife on October 16, 2018.
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Smoking is allowed on Quintessential's rooftop, which is enclosed during the fall and winter months. It's not clear whether the ordinance would allow smoking to continue when the patio is enclosed.

Quintessential allows smoking on its upstairs patio, Sohn said, and other bars on Main Street have patios as well. The limited ban allows smoking in open-air patios, but the ordinance says the patios cannot have more than two solid walls, and “a solid wall includes a retractable divider, garage door, or other solid physical barrier, but only when closed.” Quintessential, Sohn said, puts up walls in the fall and winter so patrons stay warm.

St. Charles County Council member Mike Klinghammer, who sponsored both the complete ban and the one with exemptions, said he’s disappointed voters will only have one option on the ballot.

“I think that the people of St. Charles County should be able to make that decision, and then individual establishments can make the decision on their own whether or not they want to cater to the smoking crowd, to the non-smoking crowd or a combination of the two,” Klinghammer said.

In fact, Klinghammer said he’s not sure whether he will vote for his own measure on Nov. 6.

“More and more establishments, without government regulation, without being forced to, are going non-smoking on their own,” he said. “And that’s the process I actually like to see.”

Big A’s on the Riverfront is one of those establishments. The bar and grill, at 308 N. Main Street, stopped allowing smoking before 9 p.m. about a year and a half ago, and has never allowed smoking in its rear room.

“I think we just saw that it could possibly happen, so we wanted to see if it could work,” said manager A.J. Felder. “Honestly, the owner stopped smoking himself, so it probably helped him when he was here, he didn’t want to smoke.”

Felder said the change didn’t hurt Big A’s business, and it wouldn’t be a hardship to go completely smoke-free. But he doesn’t support the countywide ban.

“It should be up to the business owner, if that’s what they think is going to help their business or hurt their business,” he said.

A campaign committee backing complete bans says it plans to spend some of its remaining resources encouraging a no vote on the St. Charles proposal.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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