Under current St. Louis County policy, cigar bars, casino gaming areas and some drinking establishments are exempt from the ban on smoking. But that could all change if a recently introduced bill from St. Louis County Councilman Michael O'Mara passes. The proposal, full version on view below, would eliminate some existing exemptions and create an overall stricter policy.
As the Council debates the idea, activist Bill Hannegan is making an effort this week to alert every single establishment that would potentially be impacted by the changes to speak up about how bans on smoking could affect business.
"It's a very disorganized community," says Hannegan, who was featured in a 2009 RFT story. "I just want to let them know what's going on."
That's why he sent letters in the mail that should be arriving today to 135 different businesses.
Hannegan says that the current policy that gives exemptions to some has become confusing and arbitrary -- and in some cases unfair.
"Some bars can allow smoking and some can't," says Hannegan, a painter who runs a blog called Keep St. Louis Free. "Some bars are really getting hurt by that."
Hannegan says he is glad that the policy is being revisited and thinks that O'Mara's proposal is a good opportunity for businesses to weigh in.
His letter, encouraging the businesses to attend the Tuesday County Council meetings and write to their representatives, says, in part:
St. Louis County bar owner, if you, your patrons and your staff protest the theft of your exemption, the chances are very good that Councilman O'Mara will restore your bar's exemption to his ordinance and the Council will vote down any law that does not exempt your establishment.
He says that ideally he would like to see a more uniform policy where businesses that allow patrons under 21 must maintain a ban -- but those that are 21 and older be allowed to permit smoking, if they choose.
"If you're gonna allow smoking, you have to kick the kids out," he says. "It's kinda commonsensical."
Continue for more details on O'Mara's proposal.
O'Mara's proposal contains some new language -- but the most notable change is the removal of these three exemptions, which are written this way in the current policy:
-Cigar bars, provided such entity is in operation on or before the effective date of this chapter and provided that smoke does not infiltrate into areas where smoking is otherwise prohibited;
-Casino gaming areas;
-Drinking establishments which are in operation on or before the effective date of this chapter; provided, however, that no smoke infiltrates into areas where smoking is otherwise prohibited, and further provided that each such drinking establishment has posted in a place visible to the public from its exterior a certificate of exemption issued by the Department of Revenue pursuant to Section 605.076;
Other exemptions that remain under this bill, which was introduced last week, include private residences, private clubs, rehabilitative facilities, permanently designated smoking rooms, retail establishments in which food is not prepared on the premises and where more than sixty percent of the volume of trade or businesses carried on is the sale of tobacco and tobacco-related products, and more.
Hannegan, who has been outspoken about smoking bans for years, says that this is the time to go back to the drawing board and create fair policies that businesses support.
"I've been doing this for eight years," he says. "A lot of people wouldn't believe this is still an issue."
Continue for a full draft of the bill and Hannegan's letter.
Here's the full bill introduced last week.
And here's Hannegan's letter.
More from our Smoking Bans archive: "Sorry, Clayton Smokers. You Still Can't Smoke in the Park, Appeals Court Rules"