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Smoking ban with major exemptions passes in St. Charles County

Smoking ban with major exemptions passes in St. Charles County

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St. Charles County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a new countywide ban on smoking in indoor public places — but with exemptions for bars, the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles and veterans organization halls.

Meanwhile, a St. Louis County proposition imposing limitations on smoking in the county’s two casinos was winning in partial returns.

That measure requires Hollywood Casino in Maryland Heights and River City Casino in Lemay to make at least 50 percent of their gambling floors smoke-free.

While the county’s current smoking ban completely exempts casinos, Hollywood and River City voluntarily ban lighting up on about 10 percent of their gaming floors.

Other smoking ban exemptions will continue in St. Louis County, including one for more than 90 bars.

The new St. Charles County measure prohibits smoking in indoor public places and places of employment across the county for the first time.

While Ameristar will be exempt, the facility — like competitors Hollywood and River City — will be required to make at least half of its gaming floor smoke-free. Ameristar currently has some smoke-free gambling areas, but a spokesman for its owner, Boyd Gaming, didn’t know the percentage.

Under the newly passed proposition, bars and any other business barring people under age 21 also will be exempt.

In addition, restaurants can allow smoking in 21-and-older areas separately ventilated and physically separated from nonsmoking sections. Other provisions exempt cigar bars and retail tobacco stores barring anyone under age 18.

The St. Charles County measure allows municipalities to enact stronger prohibitions of their own, as O’Fallon and Lake Saint Louis already have done. Municipalities in St. Louis County have been able to do the same.

The two measures were alternatives to comprehensive bans advocated by a regional health coalition, Show Me Smoke Free.

The coalition, primarily funded by the American Heart Association, gathered thousands of signatures to get strong smoking bans before voters in the two counties but each was blocked from the ballot by the courts.

A rival petition campaign financed by Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood and River City, got the St. Louis County alternative on the ballot.

The St. Charles County alternative was put on the ballot by the County Council with support from Ameristar.

“It shows most people would rather not have smoking in public places but they see the logic of letting the owners of adult-only establishments make their own decisions,” the measure’s sponsor, County Councilman Mike Klinghammer, R-St. Charles, said of Tuesday’s vote.

Show Me Smoke Free opposed the two propositions voted on Tuesday, saying they didn’t adequately protect the health of customers and workers.

"These policies are not comprehensive and do not protect our residents and workers from secondhand smoke," said a statement issued by the American Lung Association, one of the groups in the coalition.

The association said it will only support laws that "make every workplace smoke-free."

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