Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yvonne Angieri's Great Op-Ed

Yvonne Angieri, a St. Louis University student who manages two area restaurants, recently wrote an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which makes the argument against a bar and restaurant smoking ban about as well as an argument can be made. The op-ed is now only available through the Post's archive. It was well worth buying in order to post it again:

The ongoing national debate regarding the relative merits of banning smoking in restaurants and bars has sparked a great deal of controversy here in St. Louis as the issue has come closer to home. This issue interests me personally because, in addition to attending St. Louis University as a full-time undergraduate student, I also am a manager at two of St. Louis' finest restaurants: Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood and Herbie's Vintage '72 in the Central West End.

I am not a smoker, nor do I care for the smell of smoke. But I do believe that private property owners should be trusted with the choice of whether to offer either a smoke-free or a smoking environment in their own establishments to their own clientele.

Neither do I wish to be depicted as "anti-health" or "anti-progress." But couching the issue of "public" smoking solely in terms of public health is misleading.

I recently learned that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration itself has refused to impose a strict ban, as proposed by St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson, D-28th Ward. Furthermore, studies on exposure to secondhand smoke produce very mixed results. A 2003 study by epidemiologists James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, published in the British Medical Journal, found no evidence that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer or heart disease. A recent multi-state study by RAND, the Congressional Budget Office and University of Wisconsin and Stanford University researchers found no link between smoking bans and a reduction of heart attacks or other serious diseases.

Besides, employers already have a means of providing clean indoor air for employees and patrons alike: air filtration. When Herbie's Vintage '72 opened in October, the owners installed air filtration systems in both the bar and private cigar lounge. I was pleasantly surprised by their effectiveness. After a busy night, I leave the restaurant with virtually no smell of smoke in my hair or my clothes.

The elimination of this irritation prompted me to re-evaluate my opinion of air filtration. While legal concerns keep filtration manufacturers from making health claims, their technical specifications demonstrate that their machines not only are highly effective in making indoor air cleaner than outdoor air, but they also filter out such threats as swine or avian flu viruses.

The owner of a private establishment, a "house" if you will, should have the right to offer his guests a place to smoke and to choose the most effective means of cleaning the air. Granting establishments the freedom to purify their air using effective modern technology would allow their owners the opportunity to provide a cleaner working environment for employees and achieve a harmonious balance in accommodating both smoking and non-smoking guests - as Herbie's has succeeded in doing.

It also would ensure that employees like me are secure in a workplace that is not in jeopardy because of lost revenue that might result from a smoking ban. Loss of livelihood and medical insurance caused by closures and cutbacks surely pose a serious and immediate health risk to hospitality employees. This is a real possibility: research by Federal Reserve economists blames the Illinois smoking ban for a 20 percent decline in casino revenues and holds the Columbia, Mo., smoking ban responsible for an 11 percent decrease in bar revenues. For restaurant workers supporting families, these numbers can mean financial ruin and an actual decline in standard of living.

As a manager of a St. Louis city restaurant, I want to know that my interests and those of my colleagues truly are being protected. I am not alone in my concern. St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, the Missouri Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association of Greater St. Louis all have opposed a city and county smoking ban in order to avert the grave potential economic damage of such a restriction.

It is clear to many people that a smoking ban would be an unnecessary and intrusive measure, one that would achieve the opposite of its original intent. Instead of protecting workers, it would hurt them. Government exists to safeguard the lives, freedom and self-determination of its citizens. St. Louis would thus do well to live up to its good name and look out for all its citizens.