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Odenwald's proposed ban on smoking in public places likely to spark debate


March 02, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

County smokers may lose their last safe havens — bars and restaurants.

County Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, last week proposed a smoking ban at restaurants, bars, casinos, theaters, airports, office buildings, indoor sports venues, colleges and universities throughout both in-corporated and unincorporated St. Louis County.

"This really is an issue of public health. It is not an issue of individual rights," Oden-wald told the Call. "I am not trying to step on anyone's individual rights. It's an issue of health."

Odenwald authored legislation in the 1990s to ban smoking at elementary, secondary and preschools as well as set up retail licenses for businesses selling cigarettes.

The aim was to curb underage smoking.

An indoor public smoking ban in the county has been a goal of his, and Oden-wald said the time to act is now.

"I think that there is a different climate than there was maybe four or five years ago," he said. "Smokers and non-smokers alike have pretty much accepted the fact that secondhand smoking is a health risk for everybody. Whereas, five years ago there was a lot of debate about that. I think everybody has accepted: 'Yes, it is a health risk.'"

If Odenwald's "Indoor Clean Air Act" is approved, violators could receive fines up to $50 for individuals or $100 to $500 for business owners, depending on the number of violations.

Private residences, hotel rooms designated for smoking, specified rooms in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, retail tobacco stores and facilities operated by non-profit fraternal, athletic, military or religious organizations would be exempt from the ban, according to a preliminary draft of the legislation.

The debates on public smoking bans have been smoldering recently, nationally as well as in St. Louis County and neighboring areas.

Ballwin in west county and Arnold in Jefferson County recently banned smoking in restaurants, and other municipalities have considered such bans. The Kirkwood City Council recently received a petition to institute a smoking ban.

The debate in cities typically centers on the potential loss of business, particularly for restaurants and bars, as smokers eat and drink in neighboring municipalities without smoking bans.

A countywide ban, however, would alleviate that problem, Odenwald said, as well as establish a precedent for the state.

"I think having a countywide restriction equalizes the playing field. You don't have to lose business to your neighbors," he said. "There has not been any indication that restaurants and bars have lost business as a result of (smoking bans). At least that is what the surveys have revealed" in California and New York City, where bans are in place.

"It's time to have the debate," Odenwald added. "It's time to put St. Louis County as a leader on this issue in the metro area and the state."

If Odenwald's proposal is greeted as others have, a debate is likely.

Opponents and proponents of the ban will have several opportunities to speak.

Associations and organizational groups can present their views to the council's Justice and Health Committee at a public hearing from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in the County Council Chambers of the County Administrative Building, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.

The general public may speak during two sessions Tuesday, April 12, in the County Council Chambers; one is from 2 to 4 p.m. and the other is from 7 to 9 p.m.

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