Supporters and opponents of two smoking ban-related bills took turns addressing the council, including Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Franke and Manager Sharon Lee.
One bill would place a countywide smoking ban on the November 2012 ballot. A second would grant an exemption to the casinos and also would be decided by voters if the county council approves it.
However, after each council member weighed in on the ban, the measure appeared to be one vote short. The council won’t vote on the ordinance until its Nov. 28 meeting. But unless votes change, the smoking ban issue is likely to end in a 3-3 tie that would defeat the measure.
Councilman Joe Cronin, R-District 1
This is Cronin’s second attempt at sponsoring a smoking ban issue. He supports smoking bans as a health issue, and said health officials say that 1,100 people in Missouri die from secondhand smoke each year.
“Since our county has six percent of the state’s residents, that means 66 people die from secondhand smoke in this county on a yearly basis,” he said.
“I’m not proposing that we do this. I’m proposing that we let the folks vote on this,” he said. “When my original bill had the casino exemption, the same folks beat me up for that. I split it off so that issue could be dealt with separately.
“It’s an important issue that needs to go to the ballot,” Cronin said.
Councilman Joe Brazil, R-District 2
“Just putting it to a vote of the people doesn’t make it right,” Brazil said. “You want to tell a guy who put $500,000 into a smoke bar that he could potentially go bankrupt? This is how he feeds his family. Is that right?”
He said people can choose whether they patronize or work in a bar or restaurant that allows smoking.
“In the VFW down in New Melle, you have the old codgers sitting there smoking their cigars and cigarettes. They’ve been down there for years. You going to tell them they can’t smoke? I don’t think that’s right,” he said.
Councilwoman Nancy Matheny, R-District 3
“I’d like to see a statewide ban, but to have different municipalities, different cities, different counties with different rules putting different business people at different advantages and disadvantages to me is less fair than the health issue,” Matheny said.
She said treating all businesses equally overrides the health issue, especially when people have choices to patronize them or not.
Councilman Paul Wynn, R-District 4
Wynn is out of town training for a job that will station him overseas. His absence works as a no vote since the measures need four votes pass. Wynn has been a staunch opponent of smoking bans and exemptions.
Councilman Terry Hollander, R-District 5
“I think it truly is a health issue, and Mr. Cronin tried to present an opportunity for both sides to chime in, and I think the only way that can truly be done is at the polling places," Hollander said.
He said approving the ballot measures would give St. Charles County voters a year to persuade the majority that their position is correct.
Councilman Jerry Daugherty, D-District 6
“As elected officials, we have the same obligation to the minority as we do the majority,” Daugherty said.
After the meeting, he said that he supports property owners’ rights to decide what happens in their establishments.
Councilman John White, R-District 7
“I think it’s time we (bring) this discussion, pro and con, directly to the public and let the public decide what they want for St. Charles County,” White said.
Is ballot a cop-out?
Brazil told the crowd that putting the vote on the ballot “is a cop-out.” He said elected officials can and should decide whether to enact the smoking ban.
He compared it to an eminent domain issue in which the county wanted to build a football stadium on a woman’s farm.
“Sure, it’s going to pass, but that doesn’t make it right,” Brazil said.
Hollander responded, “In my 35 years of teaching history, I never believed that putting something to a vote of the people was a cop-out. It’s what the founders of this country intended.”
“My vote is not a cop-out,” he said.
Hollander was a high school history teacher and basketball coach at St. Charles West High School for many years.
Jobs, rights, revenue and health
“We believe this is a business rights issue. We’ve invested several hundred million dollars in our facility, and we believe we should be allowed to conduct our business as we see fit,” Ameristar St. Charles General Manager Jim Franke said.
He said a smoking ban will decrease casino revenue by a minimum of 20 percent, affecting hundreds of jobs and $2.6 million in tax revenue for the City of St. Charles, plus $1.2 million in property taxes. A similar smoking ban was enacted that affected a related casino in Colorado, but it would be worse for the St. Charles facility, he said.
“Our guests need only drive two miles down the road for hassle-free gaming at one of our competitors,” Franke said.
Lee, who spoke representing BJC Health Care, urged council members to spend a day at the Siteman Cancer Center. She said smoking-related diseases are the third leading cause of death in St. Charles County.
“There is no refuting that secondhand smoke has a direct health impact on those who do not smoke,” Lee said.
“We’re confident that the voters of St. Charles County will endorse a smoke-free environment, just as voters overwhelmingly did in St. Louis County, O’Fallon and Lake Saint Louis.”