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Two weeks ago state legislatures in North Carolina — the nation's top tobacco-producing state — and Wisconsin passed statewide smoking bans, bringing to 33 the number of U.S. states with some sort of prohibition on indoor smoking. The Show-Me State is not among that group; though two pieces of anti-smoking legislation did land in the Missouri General Assembly this year, neither made it out of committee.
Kansas City bans smoking indoors in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. St. Louis does not. (The Kansas City law, enacted in 2008 after a referendum, is being challenged in court.)
Nonetheless, there's been a lot of huffing and puffing lately about smoking bans in our area. In St. Louis Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, who represents the 28th Ward, has introduced the St. Louis City Smoke Free Air Act of 2009, a bill to outlaw smoking in virtually all public places.
Some might say it's a bold move, as Krewson represents the Central West End and the East Loop, both of which are populated with numerous bars and restaurants. "I am getting a lot of [negative] telephone calls and some e-mails," she acknowledges. "But I think it's a health issue. And the other thing is, thirty-some other states have some form of a statewide smoking ban. As do France and Ireland. This isn't really a very progressive thing I'm attempting to do right now. Most everybody has beat us to it."
But Krewson's bill has a catch: It would only be enacted on the day that St. Louis County adopts identical legislation.
The St. Louis County Council has already visited the subject. Twice. In 2005 then-council members Kurt Odenwald and Skip Mange called for a wide-ranging ban that would have included parts of casinos; the council voted it down, 4-3. In 2006 Odenwald tweaked his proposal and suggested that it be put to the people. The council instead voted to table the issue and refer it to the state legislature.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a known health nut, has stated that passing a smoking ban in the city is a major priority for his third term in office. He said as much during his April State of the City address to the Board of Aldermen. Quoth Slay: "Nothing quite says 'regressive place to live' to young people like resisting a change already made in 29 states [at that time], the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico."
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley says through a spokesman that he would support a statewide ban only.
Yet St. Louis is not the only local government turning the screws on the county. In January the mayors of five municipalities — Olivette, Creve Coeur, Clayton, University City and Overland — formally requested that the county council propose an indoor smoking ban this year. Separately, the cities of Clayton, Kirkwood and Wildwood are all looking at potential bans.
(If the county were to pass a ban, it would affect all municipalities and unincorporated areas. A municipality could adopt its own anti-smoking ordinance separate of or in addition to a countywide ban. If the municipal ordinance were more stringent than a county measure, the municipality's police department would enforce those rules.)
And earlier this year the St. Charles County Municipal League, which represents seventeen cities, passed a resolution urging that indoor smoking bans be addressed only at the state level, for economic reasons.
It all adds up to more bureaucratic waffling than you can shake a cancer stick at. So here at Riverfront Times we decided it's high time to clear the air.
So we polled public officials (including state legislators) in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County, as well as in municipalities with populations of 15,000 or more. We asked 'em a few straightforward questions, beginning with: Would you support a smoking ban in [your jurisdiction]?
Most of the folks who took the trouble to respond — roughly half of the 291 we reached out to — did so with refreshing candor; only a handful declined to participate. (Alas, we didn't hear back from everyone.)
Of those who spoke up, 54 percent are in favor of some form of smoking ban. Coming out against any sort of ban are 30 percent, while 16 percent say they are undecided or decline to reveal their stance.
A statewide ban would appear to have overwhelming backing from the local legislative delegation: 60 percent of the House members and 83 percent of the senators who responded to RFT profess support for a ban. (That the area delegation failed to carry the day in Jefferson City might coincide with a stark geographical component of statewide bans across the nation: Of the seventeen states that have not curtailed smoking, the vast majority are clustered south of the Mason-Dixon Line.)
St. Louis city officials, meanwhile, seem divided on the issue: 52 percent would say yes to a ban, 15 percent are against it and 33 percent are undecided or unwilling to comment.
And now to the results — with bonus commentary when we found it entertaining and/or enlightening.