Sunday, November 13, 2011

Open Letter to St. Charles County Council

Dear St. Charles County Council Members:

Councilman Cronin announced on Veterans Day that he will propose that a smoking ban including bars and VFW halls be placed on the ballot. County Councilmen, St. Charles County bar owners and veterans groups have the right to allow the use of a legal product by adults on their private property if common sense ventilation and exhaust systems are in place. St. Charles County business owners are depending on you to protect their property rights by considering all the evidence and deciding under what conditions these business owners can continue to allow indoor smoking. Public health laws are almost never turned over to voters for a good reason. Most voters do not have the time, interest or information to make such an economic and public health judgement. Turning over the fate of St. Charles County bars and VFW halls to a free for all popularity contest driven by who can spend the most advertising dollars would be an irresponsible thing to do.

Furthermore, Councilman Cronin also seeks to offer voters a chance to specially exempt Ameristar Casino from the smoking ban. I must warn the Council that the Special Laws Clause of the Missouri Constitution forbids any special exemption of individual business from public health laws. It is wrong to ask St. Charles County voters to consider a constitutionally suspect measure that will likely lead to a legal challenge. Such a successful challenge was brought when Louisville Metro Council similarly exempted Churchill Downs from a smoking ban. Councilman Cronin's Ameristar exemption would likely suffer the same fate.

Councilman Cronin also stated on Friday that St. Charles County bars and VFW halls have no basis to worry about the economic impact of his smoking ban. But recent Missouri smoking ban experience argues otherwise.

For instance, bar owners in Springfield Missouri report revenue losses of up to 75 percent due to the smoking ban! VFW bingo is specially mentioned in this article as being hurt:

A recent survey by Tobacco Free St. Louis reported losses of up to 75 percent among non-exempt St. Louis County businesses blaming the St. Louis County smoking ban.

The Clayton smoking ban has caused Clayton restaurant revenues (by law Clayton has only restaurants, no bars) to remain flat despite the reopening of Highway 40.

A study by a St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist found that the Columbia smoking ban cut overall restaurant revenues 3.5 percent, the revenues of restaurants that serve alcohol 6.5 percent and the revenues of bars 11 percent.

Given the clear economic danger a smoking ban presents, I suggest that the St. Charles County Council continue to allow adult free choice in St. Charles County private businesses and clubs, particularly veterans groups, and instead simply forbid smoking in venues when minors are present. Ameristar Casino, St. Charles County bar owners and veterans groups would have no objection to such a common sense restriction.


Bill Hannegan
Home phone: 314.367.3779
Cell phone: 314.315.3779