A fresh batch of Missouri legislators will convene shortly for the start of the new legislative session. One of their surprises may be the fact that, despite all other state buildings being smoke-free, legislators have exempted themselves from that requirement in the state Capitol.
Some years ago, Missouri GASP, Group Against Smoking Pollution Inc., assisted Ms. Vivian Dietemann, a smoke-sensitive asthmatic from St. Louis, in filing an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint with the Missouri Attorney General's office regarding smoking in the Capitol. At the time, smoking was allowed throughout the building, the only exception being the visitor's gallery overlooking the House chamber. Ms. Dietemann's efforts in late 1993 and early 1994 led to a substantial reduction in where smoking was allowed.
But today, senators and some House members are still permitted to smoke in their offices, as well as a members' lounge behind the House chamber, and there is a smoking area in the underground garage.
Sweeping smoke-free air ordinances became effective in St. Louis City and County on Jan. 2, joining many other Missouri communities. A smoke-free air initiative petition was recently approved by Jefferson City voters, so now you can't smoke in a local bar, but you can smoke in the state Capitol.
What kind of example is the Missouri Capitol setting to young children who visit the building when they smell secondhand smoke coming from legislators' offices? What does this say about legislators themselves who allow this to continue?
It really is time for the "Smoke-Me" Capitol to go smoke-free.
Martin Pion is president of Missouri GASP, Group Against Smoking Pollution Inc., which is based in St. Louis.