JEFFERSON CITY — Following adoption of smoking bans in St. Louis and St. Louis County, one Missouri legislator who has previously supported a statewide ban said he now thinks differently.
Rep. Joseph Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, said he thinks now might be the time for smoking bans to be local initiatives. Fallert said after his initial proposal for banning smoking in public places statewide failed he has been watching the progress of such legislation in local jurisdictions.
He originally said he thought it was important to make it a state law to allay the fear of businesses losing revenue because of patrons going to other counties or municipalities; but with the success of these bans at local levels, he said he does not see the need for a statewide ban.
"There is no reason to jump in and make a huge change when things are already headed in the right direction," Fallert said.
With the passage of Proposition N, 50 percent of Missourians are now in a smoke-free environment, St. Louis County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser said.
Proposition N prohibits smoking in certain public areas in St. Louis city and county. For example, within city limits, the law prevents smoking in bars and restaurants, but in St. Louis County, any bar that makes less than 25 percent of its revenue from food can allow smoking.
The election, which had a 20 percent voter turnout, resulted in two-thirds of voters favoring the ban. The ban will go into effect Jan. 2, 2011.
Residents of St. Louis city did not vote on the proposition. They are subject to it, however, because their alderman had a contingency that would go into effect with the county ban. The city ban is more stringent than the county's. For example, it bans smoking in all city vehicles and private clubs.
Fraser headed the proposition. The smoking ban was necessary because it was a major health issue, she said, and the ban is "a tremendous step forward for the health of our community."
Bill Hannegan — an activist in St. Louis who heads Keep St. Louis Free, which, according to its Web site, "fights to protect the personal freedoms and property rights of St. Louisans" — has voiced his negative opinion of the new law.
"We knew it was going to be a tough fight in St. Louis County, and we are not surprised we lost, but we are disappointed," he said.
Other areas that have enacted similar bans have experienced business and job losses, Hannegan said.
He cited a study by The Regional Economist on revenue lost by casinos from the statewide smoking ban in Illinois to illustrate his point. According to the study, Illinois had a tax loss of more than $200 million in 2008 alone, and local communities lost over $12 million in tax revenue.
Additionally, Hannegan said that Chad Cotti of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh predicted a 20 percent job loss among bar employees in St. Louis city because of the ban.
Hannegan said he is preparing to fight the ban. He said the ban is unconstitutional in St. Louis County because of certain exemptions it allows.
Missouri's Constitution forbids exemptions to businesses which the state limits in number, Hannegan said. But casinos, which fall into this category, are still exempt from the smoking ban, he said.
"They have to justify why there is some special connection to smoking with casinos rather than bars," he said, adding that there is no apparent connection to allow for such an exemption.
Kansas City faced a similar challenge, Fraser said, which failed and was not picked up by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Fraser recommended the legislature look at passing a statewide ban on smoking.
"Certainly I think that the atmosphere in Jeff City is good at this time," she said. "I hope that we in St. Louis County set the groundwork for this to occur."
Also in favor of the new bans in St. Louis city and county is the American Cancer Society. While the group said this a great step in the right direction, more can be done, such as removing the exemptions to protect those who suffer from second-hand smoke.