As mentioned yesterday on this blog, folks on both side of the smoking ban debate aren't happy with a bill that would ask St. Louis County voters to prohibit tobacco use in most businesses.
For smoking advocates and many business owners, the bill is an unfair encroachment into their rights. For members of the anti-smoking campaign, the bill -- which would exempt casinos and "drinking" bars that earn 75 percent of their sales through alcohol -- is too weak.
To that end, today the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association issued a joint statement to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley asking that he veto the bill before it makes its way onto the November 3 ballot.
In the statement (attached at the end of this post) the health agencies warn that, if approved by voters, the current legislation would allow taverns to receive a license (virtually unchecked) permitting smoking in their establishments. "In effect, this will give bars a county-issued license to harm the health of its employees and patrons," the letter reads.
COUNTY COUNCIL ACTION ON SMOKE-FREE PROPOSAL
The American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and Tobacco Free Missouri are extremely disappointed that the St. Louis County Council has voted to send a confusing and badly flawed smoke-free proposal to the ballot. We oppose the proposal because it does not fully protect the public's right to breathe smoke-free air, makes enforcement unworkable, and unfairly pits business against business. We now call on County Executive Dooley to reject this ordinance in its current form and to ask the Council to start over with a more deliberative process that yields meaningful health protection for St. Louis County.
We hoped the Council would send an ordinance to the people that would do what it was intended to do -- truly protect workers and patrons from secondhand smoke, in a way that is easy for people to understand and easy to enforce. We thank the many residents who voiced their support for a strong and comprehensive measure that covers all workplaces, including bars and restaurants and urge everyone to continue the fight for smoke-free air.
Instead, the Council has passed a proposal that compromises the health of those employees and patrons most exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoke-free ordinances are intended to protect employees and customers of all businesses, not just some. Under this proposal, bars will be able to obtain a license from the county to allow smoking. In effect, this will give bars a county-issued license to harm the health of its employees and customers.
Additionally, the proposal contains ten loopholes and many flaws in the language. And as we have seen in many other communities, this leads to confusion and can create expensive enforcement issues and potential legal challenges.
The evidence is clear: In the end, a weak ordinance ends up compromising the health of workers and the public, offers false reassurance, and stands in the way of future efforts. With the abundant science about the dangers of secondhand smoke, exemptions for certain workplaces are no longer acceptable.
In issuing a groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke in 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General stated, "The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease." Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 carcinogens. The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.