Tobacco-Free St. Louis will push the St. Louis County Council to expand the current smoking ban in the county to eliminate exemptions to the 2011 Clean Air Act.
Businesses eligible for smoking bans include casinos, Lambert International Airport and bars where food makes up a small percentage of sales. The airport later went smoke-free despite its exempt status.
The group made the announcement during a press conference Thursday morning at Three Kings Public House in University City.
The group said there are currently 145 exemptions to the ban with the majority of those (56) coming in the North County area. There are 20 exemptions in mid-County, 41 in South County and 29 in the West County area.
"The most vulnerable are the ones who are most unjustly impacted by this," Rance Thomas said. "Where people are most vulnerable in our community is where they are most likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke and poisonous air."
Dr. Stuart Slavin, board member of Tobacco-Free St. Louis and associate dean of the medical school Saint Louis University, said the issue is the health and well being of all county residents.
The exemptions are creating an unfair playing field for restaurants that play by the rules, argued Derek Deaver, owner of Three Kings in U City and Deaver's Restaurant and Sports Bar in North County.
"I've seen my food sales go up by 10 percent, but my bar sales are down 15 percent," he said. "What this is doing is hurting bars with food."
Deaver said the county's application for exemption — a downloaded application and a $35 fee — isn't being policed for accuracy.
"We need to ban smoking county-wide. They've done it in Kansas City, Columbia, Chicago and New York — even Dublin has a smoking ban and everyone in Ireland smokes," Deaver said.
The group offered several reasons why a complete ban would be good for businesses. They include:
- A July 2011 study by The Mellman Group which shows that 72 percent of voters favor all indoor establishments being smoke-free.
- A recent University of Missouri study that air in smoke-free businesses around St. Louis is 90 percent cleaner than before the smoking ban.
- Smoke-free provides a safe workplace for employees.
- No exemptions means no loopholes.
When the ban went into effect in 2011, many were concerned the revenue from Harrah's in Maryland Heights would go across the river to the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, if one allowed smoking and the other did not.
Business owners Thursday said they weren't worried about people driving from across counties to smoke, but those that are going across the street.
The owner of a restaurant at Highway 141 and Olive said he notices a difference in his own well-being since the ban went into place, but he and other rule-abiding business owners are essentially being put at a disadvantage for playing by the rules.
"They just need to level the playing field," Deaver said.