JEFFERSON CITY - In light of the recent success of a smoking ban in St. Louis City and County, one Missouri legislator who has previously supported a statewide ban said he now feels differently.
Rep. Joseph Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, said he thinks now might be the time for smoking bans to be a local initiative. Fallert said after his initial proposal for banning smoking statewide failed, he has been watching the progress of local jurisdictions.
He originally said he thought it was important to make it a state law to prevent the fear of businesses losing revenue due to patrons going to other counties or municipalities, but now with the success of these bans at local levels, he said he thinks differently. "There is no reason to jump in and make a huge change when things are already headed in the right direction," Fallert said.
With the passage of Proposition N, 50 percent of Missourians are now in a smoke-free environment, St. Louis County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser said.
Proposition N prohibits smoking in certain public areas in St. Louis city and county. For example, within city limits, the law prevents smoking in bars and restaurants, but in St. Louis County, any bar that makes less than 25 percent of its revenue from food can allow smoking.
The election, which had only a 20 percent voter turnout, resulted in a two-thirds vote in favor of the ban, which will go into effect Jan. 2, 2011.
Residents of St. Louis City did not vote on the proposition. They are subject to it however because their alderman had a contingency that would go into effect with the county ban. The city ban is more stringent than in the county, for example, by banning smoking in all city vehicles and private clubs.
Fraser headed the proposition. The smoking ban was necessary because it was a major health issue, she said, and the ban is "a tremendous step forward for the health of our community."
Bill Hannegan -- an activist in St. Louis who heads Keep St. Louis Free, which according to their Web site "fights to protect the personal freedoms and property rights of St. Louisans" -- has voiced his negative opinion of the new law.
"We knew it was going to be a tough fight in St. Louis County, and we are not surprised we lost, but we are disappointed," he said.
Other areas that have enacted similar bans have experienced business and job loss, Hannegan said.
He cited a study by The Regional Economist on revenue lost by casinos from the statewide smoking ban in Illinois to illustrate his point. According to the study, Illinois had a tax loss of over $200 million in 2008 alone, and local communities lost over $12 million in tax revenue.
Additionally, Hannegan said that Chad Cotti of the University of Wisconsin predicted a 20 percent job loss among bar employees in St. Louis City because of the ban.
But he said he is preparing to fight the ban. Hannegan said the ban is unconstitutional in St. Louis County because of the certain exemptions it allows for.
The Missouri State Constitution forbids exemptions to businesses the state limits in number, and casinos, which are exempt to the smoking ban, fall into this category, Hannegan said.
"They have to justify why there is some special connection to smoking with casinos rather than bars," he said, adding that there is no apparent connection to allow for such an exemption.
Kansas City faced a similar challenge, Fraser said, which failed and was not picked up by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Fraser recommended the legislature look at passing a statewide ban on smoking. "Certainly I think that the atmosphere in Jeff City is good at this time," she said."I hope that we in St. Louis County set the ground work for this to occur."
Also in favor of the new bans in St. Louis is the American Cancer Society. While the group said this a great step in the right direction, more can be done, such as removing the exemptions to protect those who suffer from second-hand smoke.