CAPE GIRARDEAU — Opponents to a citywide smoking ban have begun passing out fliers and putting up yard signs in this riverbank city, less than a month before voters cast their ballots.
Voters in four cities, including Cape Girardeau, will decide on smoking bans in elections on April 5. The Cape Girardeau measure would ban smoking in all indoor workplaces, including bars, restaurants and private clubs. Similar measures are to go before voters in O'Fallon, Webb City and Springfield on the same day.
More than a dozen smoking bans have been implemented in Missouri in the past two years, including in St. Louis, Jefferson City, Warrensburg, Maryville and Creve Coeur. A total of 18 municipalities in the state have ordinances that prohibit smoking in all bars and restaurants.
The group fighting the proposed ban in Cape Girardeau is called "Stand Up Cape, What's Next?" It filed its campaign organization papers with the state on March 3, three days before the deadline. Recently it began putting up its bright red fliers and reaching out to tea party groups and civic organizations to rally voters against the ban.
Cape Girardeau resident Doc Cain said the proposed bans are examples of government intruding on people's choice to use a legal product.
"We're going to remind people that they have choices," said Cain, the group's organizer, told the Southeast Missourian. "We don't think businesses should be penalized, and we don't think the government should tell us how to run our business."
Cain's group is playing catch-up to those who back the smoking ban, an organization called Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape. That group filed its papers four months ago and has received a $10,000 in-kind donation from the American Cancer Society for the campaign. They've been calling potential voters two nights a week, asking their opinion on the issue and answering questions.
Spokesman Dave Hardesty said the ban would help cut exposure to secondhand smoke, which he said could decrease a person's chances of getting cancer.
"This is a health issue, for ourselves and future generations," he said.
Clashes between personal liberty and public health have played out in the other three cities that will be battlegrounds
Bill Hannegan, an organizer of Keep St. Louis Free, said lawmakers and voters shouldn't get behind efforts of smoke-free groups simply because of their string of ballot box victories.
"Does the fact that smoking bans are popular mean that bar and property owners have no property rights?" he said. "These bans are trendy right now. Does that obliterate the property rights of business owners?"
Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, has put forth similar statewide legislation to ban smoking in all enclosed buildings and require that outdoor smokers be at least 15 feet from building entrances. Schupp's bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing, and she admits it likely won't pass.
But she said that she thinks people would want government to intervene and limit the places where people can be exposed to smoke.
"Thank goodness the government intervenes on some issues," she said. "There are all kinds of reasons for our health, well-being and safety in our nation that government intervention is essential. This is one of those areas."