Veterans' organization members, bar owners and Ameristar Casino employees broke into applause after the St. Charles County Council voted down a proposal to put a countywide smoking ban on the November 2012 ballot.
A tied 3-3 vote doomed the proposal.
Before the vote, Kevin Nash, who lives near O’Fallon, said people were confusing the issue. Nash pointed out the proposal wasn’t to create a smoking ban, but to allow St. Charles County residents to vote on the issue.
“The ordinance is about whether the citizens of St. Charles County will have the opportunity to say, ‘This is what I want,’ and to express that through their vote,” Nash said.
Larry Williams, commander of American Veterans Post 106 in St. Peters, referred to a contingent of veterans' organization members attending the meeting.
“They have fought and shed their blood for the types of freedoms this bill is trying to take away,” Williams told council members.
“They’re concerned that any smoking ban will close their posts due to low attendance at their bars and post functions,” he said.
He said a smoking ban would effectively shut down every veterans' organization in the county, eliminating jobs at the posts.
Williams also said he has friends who own bars in O’Fallon, which passed a smoking ban last spring.
“In a year’s time, they are about ready to close their doors due to the smoking ban,” he said.
Council weighs in
Voting for the smoke-free ballot proposal were council members Joe Cronin, (R-District 1) Terry Hollander (R-District 5) and John White (R-District 7).
Voting against the bill were council members Joe Brazil (R-District 2) Nancy Matheny (R-District 3) and Jerry Daugherty (D-District 6).
Before the vote, Cronin, the bill's sponsor, withdrew a separate bill that would have created an exemption for Ameristar Casino.
However, Matheny said she couldn’t support a smoking ban when St. Louis County and city operate on different terms. She said she favors a statewide smoking ban.
“St. Louis County has 348 exemptions, and 145 of them are for bars,” Matheny said. Others were for bowling alleys and veterans' organizations, she said.
“I think this does pick winners and losers with the winners are on the other side of the river and the losers on this side of the river,” Matheny said.
Meanwhile, Hollander said he believes in direct democracy.
“It’s much better for us to put this in the hands of 188,000 voters rather than in the hands of us six or seven council members,” he said.
However, Brazil said it’s a fundamental right of business owners to run their businesses as they see fit, while customers can choose whether or not to patronize them.
“To put it to a vote, that’s not right either because the Constitution protects minorities,” he said.
Cronin said that he proposed the ballot measure after three municipalities in St. Charles County passed smoking bans and three cities requested the county to do the same.
He said according to statistics from the American Cancer Society, about 66 people in St. Charles County die each year from being exposed to secondhand smoke.
Not up in smoke
The smoking ban ballot measure may have been defeated, but the issue isn’t going away.
Matheny suggested that the council iron out a proposal acceptable to both sides. On Monday, she told Patch one possibility is a smoking restriction on establishments that allow minors.
Another possibility is an initiative petition drive supported by area residents and organizations such as the American Cancer Society.
On Monday morning, Stacy Reliford, field government relations director of the American Cancer Society in St. Louis, said the anti-smoking group would consider its options carefully before taking action.
However, Reliford said the organization would not support a proposal that banned smoking only in establishments that admit those under age 21.