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County starts another debate on smoking ban

By Rachel Lippmann, KWMU

Clayton, MO – The St. Louis County Council is once again discussing a ban on smoking in most public places.

The Council narrowly defeated a ban in 2005 and 2006. The effort now is to put a ban on the November 2009 ballot.

A vote will likely come next week; the sponsor, Councilwoman Barbara Fraser from the Fifth District has not decided whether she will exempt casinos and bars that make less than 25 percent of their money from the sale of foods.

The crowd in the chamber was occasionally rowdy, with many accusing Fraser of rushing the vote to help boost her efforts to win a state Senate seat in 2010. The council must approve the initiative by August 18th to get it on the ballot without a court order. And the discussion of any exemptions pleased no one.

"Should certain classes of employees be covered and others left out? Is it aceptable to pick and choose? I don't think so," said Martin Pion, the president of Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution, which lobbies for strict smoking bans. "Once one has concluded that this is a health issue requiring county govenrment action, all affected individuals deserve to be protected."

Fraser did not answer when members of the audience demanded to know how she could be looking out for people's health with the casino exemption, which may be needed to get four votes on the seven-person council.

Opponents strongly outnumbered supporters at Tuesday's meeting. Many, like Chris Seid, the owner of Pink Galleon Billards and Games, oppose a ban on principle, but said any action would be better at the state level.

"I have a South County location that is literally five minutes from Jefferson County," Seid said. "80, 90 percent of my customers smoke. They're going to drive right on down the interstate, and dump off the Imperial exit, and go to my competitors." He said his second location, in Creve Coeur, is six minutes from St. Charles.

The city of St. Louis is also considering a no-smoking ordinance, which would not take effect until one is approved in the county. Smoking ban supporters in Kirkwood have gotten enough signatures to put their measure on the ballot in that city.