Friday, September 18, 2009

Warning Letter to St. Louis Police Officers Association

Dear President Weigert,

I am writing to warn you about the smoking ban proposed by Alderman Lyda Krewson and currently being considered by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen's Health and Human Services Committee. Unlike the smoking ban proposed in St. Louis County, the St. Louis City Smoke Free Air Act of 2009 would ban smoking in all work vehicles. This ordinance would require St. Louis City police officers to park and exit their patrol cars in order to smoke. Given the dangers police officers are subject to when patrolling the streets of St. Louis City, this seems like an unreasonable and special restriction the St. Louis Police Officers Association should protest. Again, the proposed St. Louis County smoking ban contains no such restriction.

I also want to warn you that the St. Louis City Smoke Free Air Act of 2009 would continuously place bar patrons on sidewalks outside clubs, taverns and bars until 3:00 am. Since St. Louis City clubs, taverns and bars are often embedded in neighborhoods, the problems with noise complaints due to large numbers of patrons smoking outdoors will be huge.

Here is a link to a short video which documents the problems of noise and litter a smoking ban has brought to New York City. When this video was made, less than 20 percent New York City residents smoked. In contrast, 30 percent of St. Louis City residents currently smoke. The problems with smokers on the streets, especially for neighborhoods with bars embedded in them, will be far worse in St. Louis. Please also find attached a collection of excerpts from New York City newpapers detailing the troubles the smoking ban brought to New York City police, businesses and residents. St. Louis City police don't need such trouble.

Furthermore, please consider that placing bar patrons on the street leaves them vulnerable and inviting targets of harassment, robbery and random assault. The recent drive by shooting of Committeeman Andre Williams as he stood outside the Crocodile Lounge underscores this. Why place smokers where he stood?

Finally, when a large number of bar patrons are regularly entering and exiting an establishment, it becomes very difficult for staff to keep minors out of a bar. Greater access of minors to alcohol, along with heavy drinkers driving farther to find bars that still allow smoking, partly explains why a recent study found that communities that ban smoking in bars experience on average a 13 percent increase in drunk driving fatalities. The death rate increased the longer a ban remained in place. The St. Louis City Smoke Free Air Act of 2009 will cause your officers to have to deal with more DUI's and deaths from intoxicated driving. Please find the study attached.

President Weigert, please urge the Health and Human Services Committee to exempt work vehicles such as police cars and "over 21" venues such as bars, taverns and clubs from the St. Louis City Smoke Free Air Act of 2009. These exemptions would decrease the work your officers can expect from a smoking ban and would also make that work safer and easier.


Bill Hannegan