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City to bars: when it comes to smoking ban, tents count

Bars in St. Louis that are thinking about applying for an exemption to the city'ssmoking ban will have to count any tents they use to expand seating areas toward the square footage total that allows them to get that exemption.

The city's ban includes language that lets bars smaller than 2,000 square feet and where "the serving of food is only incidental to the consumption" of alcoholic beverages to allow their patrons to smoke until January 1, 2016.

So why do tents matter?

Section 4 of the city's ban reads:

Smoking shall be prohibited in all enclosed public places within the City of St. Louis, including but not limited to, the following places:

The key words there are "enclosed spaces." The health department decided, in Health Commissioners Order #1011, and the city's Joint Board of Health and Hospitals agreed, that enclosed area means:

All space between a floor and a ceiling that is enclosed on all sides by permanent or temporary walls or windows (exclusive of doorways) which extend from the floor to the ceiling, including tents.

"If there's the potential to roll down the sides, it's enclosed," says Dr. Will Ross, a board member and a dean at Washington University's School of Medicine.

That notion makes John Vieluf, the general manager at Big Daddy's in Soulard, laugh. His bar would probably qualify for that five-year exemption, if it only counted the brick building at Sidney and 10th streets. But the patio out back is covered by tents with rolldown sides - and that takes him above that threshold.

"On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a big bar day, you know, it rained a lot," he said. "I was outside for two and a half hours pushing water off our patio that was coming through the tent. If water's coming in that much through the tent, it's not really enclosed. It was coming in everywhere."

Pamela Rice Walker, the city's interim health director, says tents make enforcement fair. "You have one liquor license, you have one health permit, you’re one facility," she says.

The ban in St. Louis Countyalso includes exemptions for small bars, but it doesn't have that square footage requirement. No big deal, says Walker.

"Their ordinance includes some things like you have to be 15 feet from the door to smoke, which I think it going to impact patios, and ours does not have that," she says.

Both city and county bans go into effect January 2.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.