Residents Lighting a Fire Under St. Louis County Council
With more than 100 businesses receiving exemptions, council reviews smoking ban policy.
Several St. Louis County residents told the St. Louis County Council Tuesday that they want smoking ban exemptions tightened up or eliminated.
Just weeks after the smoking ban went into effect, County Executive Charlie Dooley had announced that 110 businesses had received smoking ban exemptions, more than the county had anticipated.
Businesses eligible for smoking bans include casinos, Lambert International Airport and bars where food makes up a small percentage of sales. The airport later went smoke-free despite its exempt status.
“The basis for the smoking ban was clear,” Richmond Heights resident Kendra Israel told the council during its Tuesday meeting. “It was about protecting the health of the St. Louis community. The exemptions compromise the health of everyone.”
Charles Gatton, of Ballwin, told the council he was chairman for County Citizens for Cleaner Air, which worked to pass the smoking ban ballot issue.
“I spent half my time trying to explain the exemptions, which essentially boiled down to council politics,” Gatton said.
“It is apparent now that more businesses are applying for the exemptions than the county believed,” he said. “I don’t know whether (the applications) were fraudulent or if they just didn’t understand the qualifications.”
After the meeting, Dooley said county officials need to study the exemption issue.
“There have been some unintended results, and we’re going to look closely at them,” Dooley said after the meeting.
“You can get a license now, and there’s no annual review,” he said. “That’s something.”
He did not discount the possibility that all exemptions would be revoked.
“We’re looking at everything,” Dooley said.
However, James Mays, owner of Redbird Sports Café in Hazelwood, said his business dropped off 80 percent for two weeks after the ban took effect and is down 50-60 percent since then.
Mays said his business qualifies for an exemption, but the county has put a hold on issuing the exempt status.
“It’ll be money right out of my employees’ pockets because they won’t be working,” he said.
Mays noted St. Louis County casinos got their exemptions because officials feared gambling money would go across the river into St. Charles County.
“That’s exactly what’s happening to the bars,” he said.
County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-District 3, said, “The numbers I saw were that 10 percent of the businesses have gotten exemptions, so 90 percent are smoke-free,” Wasinger said.
She said she supported an exemption-free smoking ban, and that would be her stance as the process is reviewed.
After the meeting, Beth Kistner, a Creve Coeur councilwoman, said she believes the county council is getting the message that smoking ban exemptions are not working.
“It makes more work for the county to achieve less good for the public,” she said. “It should be simple.”