Missouri could be on its way to becoming a smoke-free state after the current legislative session ends.
District 97 Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, recently introduced a bill that calls for a smoking ban in most public places state-wide. House Bill 1766 would ban smoking in restaurants, bars, malls, arenas, casinos, offices and in other public buildings.
Smokers also would be prohibited from lighting up outdoors “within 15 feet of en-trances, windows and ventilation systems” as well as “bleachers and grandstands of outdoor arenas; public transportation stations, platforms, and shelters; and playgrounds.”
Bivins’ bill exempts private residences, tobacco stores and 20 percent of hotel and motel rooms.
Violators — “any person smoking in prohibited areas” or “any person who controls a public place or place of employment” that allows smoking — would be fined no more than $50 for the first violation, no more than $100 for a second violation within one year and no more than $500 for a third or subsequent violation within one year.
The bill would take effect Jan. 2, 2011, the same day a similar smoking ban would take effect in St. Louis County.
Roughly 65 percent of county voters in November approved that ban, which also triggered a smoking ban in St. Louis city.
The county measure received 90,229 “yes” votes and 47,820 “no” votes, according to official election results.
The St. Louis region will join Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield, all of which have similar smoking bans in place.
“I had thought that depending on how our area would vote on the St. Louis County proposal last November that I might be willing to do something,” Bivins told the Call. “And I expressed that to some folks after it did pass, and I saw by how wide a margin it passed in the county and particularly our area in south county.
“I felt like it was something people were interested in, and that we ought to see what we might be able to do from a statewide smoking ban,” he added.
The American Cancer Society and American Heart Association came out against the county smoking ban last year because of its numerous exemptions, including one for casino gambling floors.
Bivins said the two organizations provided him with “fairly restrictive” language for a statewide ban.
A similar statewide smoking ban was introduced a year ago by District 24 Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, but never made it out of the Health, Mental Health, Seniors and Families Committee.
While opponents have argued that such laws hurt businesses, especially in today’s rough economic climate, Bivins disagrees.
“There’s never a right time to do something like this if you listen to those types of arguments,” Bivins said. “I guess just from my own observations, when I go into a restaurant and it’s kind of a busy period, they’ll ask you if you want smoking or nonsmoking.
“And if you tell them nonsmoking, they’ll say: ‘Well if you want no smoking it’ll be a 15- to 20-minute wait, but if you want smoking we can seat you right now.'”
HB 1766 is co-sponsored by 19 state representatives, Republicans and Democrats.
The bill was read a second time Jan. 25.
Bivins said he expects House Speaker Ron Richard to refer it to either the Energy and Environment Committee — of which Bivins is chairman — or the Health Care Policy Committee.