Efforts Underway to Eliminate County Smoking Ban Exemptions

The St. Louis County smoke-free ordinance is one year old, and the Tobacco-Free St. Louis coalition says the County Council still needs to deal with unfinished business.  By allowing some businesses to have smoking exemptions, the Council created an unlevel playing field that has hurt the small restaurant/bar owners who have been playing by the rules, the coalition  and some restaurants owners stated at a press conference last Thursday.

Before the ordinance went to a vote of the people in Nov. 2009, the Council stated that only 50-60 small bars that sold 25 per cent food or less would be exempted.  That number has grown to 145 exemptions, with 56 of them being in the North County area.  The exemptions have hurt some businesses in Florissant.

Jay Russell, owner of BJ’s Bar & Grill, said that some of his former regular customers order carry-out pizza from his establishment and take it to a nearby bar where they can smoke.  Some North County bar/grill owners have said that because they sell food and report their sales honestly, they are not eligible for an exemption, while other bars have taken measures such as lowering food prices, cutting back on menu items, or not reporting sales correctly.

North County has more exemptions than other areas of the county, according to an analysis compiled by Tobacco-Free St. Louis, a coalition of health and community leaders.  Clayton, Brentwood, Creve Coeur, Kirkwood and Ballwin have passed stronger ordinances that have eliminated exemptions and created level playing fields for business owners in those municipalities.

“The number of exemptions is higher in districts where health disparities are highest—making a bad health situation worse,” said Stuart Slavin, M.D., a physician and associate dean at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and a TFSTL board member.  He said the Clean Air Act was a positive and necessary first step to creating a less toxic environment, “but we’re failing those who need it most.”

Derek Deaver, owner of Three Kings Public House in the University City Loop and Deaver’s in Florissant, said at the press conference last Thursday that he was in favor of the Clean Air Act.  “I actually prefer restaurants smoke-free.  But to have establishments playing by one set of rules and others by a different set has created confusion and an unlevel playing field.  The exemptions must go.”

Rance Thomas, president of North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice, said the disproportionate number of bans in North County was a cause for concern, saying that residents did not need to be “exposed to secondhand smoke and poisonous air.”

Three of the County Council districts (1, 2 and 4) in North County have nearly 40 exemptions—a higher rate than other areas of the county, although South County has 30 exemptions in District 6.

Both Deaver and Thomas have requested meetings with County Council Chairman Mike O’Mara.  After last week’s press conference, O’Mara said that there are still small businesses being hurt by the exemptions and that “it is not a level playing field.”  He indicated that this may now be the time to “tweak” the Clean Air Act.

For more information on the exemptions, visit tobaccofreestl.org. (story compiled from sources listed here and was  staff written)

 

 



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