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Clayton passes a ban on indoor smoking

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 15, 2009 - In what was largely a formality, Clayton’s Board of Aldermen unanimously approved Tuesday night a ban on smoking in many indoor public places. Clayton joins Ballwin as the only municipalities in St. Louis County to pass such restrictions.

In Kirkwood, the city council voted Thursday against an initiative brought about by supporters of a ban on smoking, and voters will have the final say in November.

Clayton Mayor Linda Goldstein said, “Well, this is a historic moment in the city of Clayton. But we should keep in mind that prohibitions on indoor smoking are the norm throughout the United States, not the exception.”

New establishments must adhere to the ban upon opening. For existing businesses, Clayton’s ban doesn’t go into effect until July 1, 2010, giving owners time to prepare for the change and the economy a chance to rebound.

Clayton’s ban includes shops, workplaces and restaurants, among other indoor spaces. A vocal contingent of restaurant owners said throughout public discussions of the proposed ban that their business would suffer should Clayton go it alone. Smokers, they argue, will go elsewhere – and particularly to neighboring cities that allow them to light up.

In a concession to restaurateurs, the ban allows smoking in outdoor dining areas. It also enables hotels and motels to designate 20 percent of guest rooms as smoking rooms, and provides an exemption for existing cigar bars.

Goldstein vowed to work with restaurant owners to ease the transition. Unlike at previous meetings, few restaurateurs were there Tuesday night to hear their fate. Perhaps they saw the writing on the wall.

Clayton’s aldermen passed the first reading of the bill 6-1 in late May, with the only objecting alderman, Alex Berger III, doing so because he said the ordinance needed to go further in banning smoking in public parks. Berger said he will continue to push for such an addition to the ban.

“This ordinance is a good one – I’d like to have it as a great one,” he said.

Several aldermen said in past meetings that they found compelling research that shows the danger of second-hand smoke, and that they felt an obligation to follow the will of Clayton residents. More than 7 in 10 residents who responded to a survey done for the city said they support the smoking ban.

Proponents of smoking bans say momentum is building across the region. Clayton’s action comes at a time when Kirkwood, Wildwood and St. Louis are each considering smoking bans.

The St. Louis plan, introduced by Alderman Lyda Krewson, would only go into effect if St. Louis County acts concurrently, which appears unlikely, because County Executive Charlie Dooley is on record saying he prefers statewide action.

“Clayton is counting on the city going smoke-free, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Bill Hannegan of the group Keep St. Louis Free. He said Clayton should be prepared to lose business to St. Louis.

Goldstein reiterated Tuesday that she would rather see a countywide or statewide ban. She was among the mayors of five county municipalities that, earlier this year, urged the St. Louis County Council to enact a smoking ban. But the other neighboring cities – including Olivette, Creve Coeur and Overland – don’t appear poised to take individual action in the wake of Clayton’s move.

“I vow to continue efforts so that we don’t stand alone,” Goldstein said. “But barring statewide or county action, we need to move ahead.”