Voters in St. Louis and St. Charles counties could see rival sets of indoor smoking bans on the Nov. 6 ballot — a strict, no-exemption plan promoted by health groups and weaker ones offered by affected businesses.
In St. Louis County, the owner of Hollywood Casino in Maryland Heights has launched a petition drive to put before voters a county charter amendment barring smoking from 50 percent of a casino’s gaming floor.
That would compete with the health coalition’s proposal to prohibit smoking in casinos entirely and in bars, restaurants and all other indoor public places. That also is a charter amendment.
The health coalition turned in on Wednesday more than 34,000 signatures on behalf of its similar St. Charles County plan. The submittal deadline in both counties is Aug. 8.
In reaction, a former Republican state legislator, Carl Bearden, said he’s talking with St. Charles County Council members to try to convince them to put on the ballot a less far-reaching proposal with some exemptions. He has yet to specify the details.
Karen Englert, an official with the American Heart Association — the lead group in the health coalition — said tough prohibitions on smoking without exemptions were essential to protecting the health of customers and employees of all businesses.
“To say a percentage of people should be safe and a percentage should not be safe does not make sense to us,” said Englert, the association’s Missouri governmental relations director. “There is no safe level of secondhand smoke.”
The heart association has put almost $800,000 into the two-county drive, according to reports filed with the state by the Committee for a Healthy Community. That committee is overseeing the effort.
The campaign seeks to get rid of loopholes in St. Louis County’s seven-year-old countywide law and impose a countywide plan for the first time in St. Charles County.
Jeff Morris, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming — which owns Hollywood Casino and is buying River City Casino in Lemay — says requiring only half of a gaming floor to go smoke-free is “a more reasonable approach.” Hollywood already has designated non-smoking sections, but less than 50 percent of its gaming floor is smoke-free, Morris said.
“With our high ceilings and state-of-the-art ventilation systems, we seek to be able to accommodate both our smoking and non-smoking customers and not force a considerable number of our patrons — and accompanying jobs and tax revenue — across county lines,” he said in an email.
That’s assuming smoking would still be allowed across the Missouri River at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, which wouldn’t be the case if the health coalition’s St. Charles County measure won voter approval.
Penn National has spent $200,000 so far on its petition effort through a committee called Citizens to Protect Tax Revenues and Jobs.
Smoking ban advocates have long contended that ventilation systems are ineffective when dealing with secondhand smoke.
What happens if two propositions with conflicting provisions both pass? In St. Louis County, a county ordinance says the one with the most votes rules, said Eric Fey, Democratic director of elections.
Rich Chrismer, the St. Charles County elections director, said he believed that same standard would apply there.
The limited smoking ban in effect in St. Louis County was approved by voters in 2009 and went into effect in 2011 after being put on the ballot by the St. Louis County Council.
In addition to the exemption for the casino gambling floors, the measure allows smoking at establishments with food sales that total less than 25 percent of total food and alcohol sales. As of February, 92 bars across the county had such exemptions.
Those all would cease to exist under this year’s proposed county charter amendment.
Tougher municipal bans with no exemptions for bars are in place in Clayton, Brentwood, Creve Coeur, Kirkwood and Ballwin. That’s also the case in two St. Charles County cities — O’Fallon and Lake Saint Louis.
The city of St. Louis began a limited smoking ban in 2011. Exemptions for about 100 bars expired in 2016. But remaining in place is an exemption for Lumière Place casino downtown.
However, the St. Louis ordinance has a provision that says the Lumière exception would expire if smoking were banned at both the St. Louis County and St. Charles County casinos — as the two health coalition ballot proposals would do.
Bearden, the former state lawmaker, worked with Ameristar and St. Charles County bars in 2012 on a petition plan designed to compete against tougher plans. Neither made the ballot.
Bearden’s 2012 proposal would have allowed people to continue to light up in businesses prohibiting customers under 21 years old, such as Ameristar and many bars and restaurants.
Also exempted would have been businesses limiting smoking to a ventilated enclosed area separated from the rest of the building.
In his current talks with County Council members, he said, he is starting with those ideas. “It’s not the role of government to tell business owners how to run their businesses,” he said.
Working with the heart association on the strict two-county plan this year have been the American Lung Association, an American Cancer Society affiliate and other groups.
A joint statement issued Wednesday by the sponsoring groups regarding the submittal of the St. Charles County signatures said smoke-free indoor air “is the new norm nationwide” and what many citizens expect.
“Through this petition, more than 30,000 local residents are showing county officials that they want action on smoke-free air laws,” the statement said.