ST. CHARLES COUNTY • A County Council member wants to require bars, restaurants, stores and other businesses countywide to post signs explaining whether smoking is allowed or prohibited by the proprietor.
Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul, says he sees that as "baby steps" before the council eventually considers enacting a countywide ban on smoking in such establishments or putting such a measure before voters.
"It's more of an informational tool," Cronin said in explaining his proposal at a council work session Monday night.
He pointed out that Lake Saint Louis had passed a sign posting ordinance and limited ban in 2007 - three years before imposing a comprehensive prohibition that also applied to bars and restaurants. That went into effect last October.
"It got the community talking," he said of the initial Lake Saint Louis measure, which did bar smoking in stores, offices and some hotel rooms.
In an article he wrote for an upcoming county government newsletter, he said his measure would give businesses "time to think about the dangers secondhand smoke presents to their customers and employees."
Cronin has yet to work out other details in his bill but said it may include a prohibition on smoking in elevators, day-care centers and some other places in which children are exposed to secondhand smoke.
Cronin's idea was panned Monday by two fellow Republicans on the council - Council Chairman Joe Brazil of Defiance and Paul Wynn of O'Fallon.
"Where does it end?" Wynn asked.
He predicted that anti-smoking "zealots" wouldn't be satisfied with the sign-posting proposal.
And if a countywide ban is passed, he said, that could spur later efforts to try to prohibit French fries, candy, soda and "anything that's bad for you."
Wynn and Brazil regard smoking bans as an infringement on individual rights.
Cronin has yet to formally introduce his measure so no vote was taken on the issue Monday night.
Last spring, then-Councilwoman Cheryl Hibbeler, an O'Fallon Democrat defeated by Cronin in the November election, tried unsuccessfully to get the council to put a comprehensive countywide ban on the ballot.
Councilman John White, R-St. Charles County, said Monday that he favors going ahead with a countywide election issue next year - either at the August primary or the November general election. White added that he might sponsor such a bill.
Cronin, meanwhile, said "if we don't put it on the ballot in 2012, you can bet they'll be a petition drive like the one in O'Fallon" to force a countywide election on the issue.
An anti-smoking petition effort succeeded in getting a comprehensive ban on the April 5 ballot in O'Fallon.
Cronin, who owns a business in O'Fallon, predicted that the O'Fallon measure will pass easily.
Last year when he was running for the council, Cronin said there probably should be a countywide election on the issue but that he personally opposed a government-imposed ban.
He said Monday he's now open to considering the idea "if public opinion leans that way."