Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Smoking Ban Struck from St. Louis County's November Ballot

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2018 at 6:30 AM

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The group pushing comprehensive smoking bans on ballots in the St. Louis suburbs this fall is now zero for two: Last night, a St. Louis County judge followed the lead of her counterpart in St. Charles County, tossing the measure from the ballot.

The St. Charles ban was booted from ballots there last week.

The bans were pushed by Show Me Smoke Free, a group heavily backed by the American Heart Association. It took aim at bars and casinos, both of which enjoy broad carve-outs in the suburbs surrounding St. Louis, even as the city itself has banned smoking in bars.

Unlike the city's ban, the ones proposed for the November 2018 ballot were comprehensive enough to include vaping, medical marijuana, hookahs and cigars.

But the twin initiatives drew pushback not just from small business owners concerned about the fallout, but from deep-pocketed casinos. Maryland Heights Mayor Mike Moeller filed the lawsuit seeking to block the ban from St. Louis County ballots on behalf of Penn National Gaming, which owns the Hollywood Casino in his city, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Nicole Zellweger found Moeller's arguments persuasive. The mayor had argued that the petitions were deficient under strict election laws, and while the board of elections had shrugged off any shortcomings as "minor form issues," Zellweger disagreed.

"The county charter and code requirements exist for very good reasons: to preserve the integrity of the initiative process, to ensure that potential signers of an initiative and voters are not misled, and to prevent confusion on the part of signers of an initiative and voters," she wrote.

She also noted that in the past, such errors have been enough to sabotage initiatives: "Election officials in many cases have rejected proposals with similar or even less serious errors."

While it's possible backers could still appeal, the casinos may have been a bit too smart for their own good. In addition to Moeller's suit, they backed a rival proposition, one designed to look like a sensible compromise. That measure would restrict smoking to half of St. Louis County casinos' gaming floors, instead of the 100 percent that are currently allowed — and it's staying on the ballot.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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