Proposed indoor smoking ban may be on hold until early August


The County Council’s Justice and Health Committee may not meet again until early August to consider a proposed countywide ban on smoking in public places.

The committee was scheduled to meet last week to discuss the proposed indoor smoking ban, but the meeting was canceled a few hours before it was to begin.

Committee member and County Council Vice Chairman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, said several issues had been raised by local businesses that could not be remedied in time for the meeting.

Odenwald, who sponsored the legislation, said the committee likely will meet after the council comes back from its summer break at the end of July.

“If we move too quickly, it could really cause the bill to fail, and I think it would be a tremendous waste of the time and effort that has been put into what I think is a very good bill, and what I think St. Louis County should be doing,” Odenwald said.

Odenwald said one of the reasons the meeting was put on hold was because of concerns raised by Harrah’s Casino and Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., which plans to build a casino in Lemay.

“The casinos are the big, big question at this point,” Odenwald said. “The last version of the proposal exempted 50 percent of the gaming area from the ordinance, so 50 percent would allow smoking, but that area would have to be separately enclosed and ventilated. That’s where there’s a very strong argument.”

He said the casinos want to have one large gaming area without an enclosed smoking area. Odenwald said if that restriction was removed from the proposal, the new draft would need to have precise ventilation standards written into the ordinance. That’s a technical matter that will need more consideration and more time, he said.

The meeting also was postponed, he said, a lot of rumors and false information are being circulated that need to be corrected.

“There’s a lot of misinformation that creates fear and uncertainty, and there was too short of time to correct that,” he said.

Odenwald said the current draft of the ordinance bans smoking from most public places and in places of employment.

Bowling alleys would be required to ban smoking down near the lanes, but may allow smoking in the lounge areas, where their ventilation systems are strong enough to pull the smoke out of the room.

Odenwald said the next draft may exempt small, stand-alone bars, but he said there would need to be a clear definition of what a small, stand-alone bar is vs. a restaurant.

“The neighborhood bars are the ones that seem to be of the greatest concern,” he said.

County Council Chairman John Campisi, R-south county, said he particularly is concerned about how the small bars may be affected if the proposal isn’t changed.

“Some of the people in the area are lower to middle class and they don’t have a lot of money, and they go to these local bars to forget about problems, to smoke and to talk with friends, and that’s what the local bar is for,” Campisi said.

Odenwald said the ordinance also may exempt small members-only clubs because they’re not open to the general public. He said that the dining rooms at the members-only clubs would be smoke-free so all res-taurants, no matter where they are located, would have to follow the same standards.

“We don’t want to give the dining rooms advantage over restaurants,” he said.

Odenwald said the ordinance just will need more time before it’s ready.

“The last thing we want to do is move forward quickly for the sake of getting it done,” he said. “I would much rather have it done right.”

Odenwald authored legislation in the 1990s to ban smoking at elementary, secondary and preschools as well as set up retail licenses for businesses selling cigarettes with the aim to curb underage smoking. An indoor public smoking ban in the county has been a goal of his and because people today accept the health hazards of secondhand smoke, the time to act is now, Odenwald has said.