If the St. Clair Board of Aldermen wanted to gather some opinion from the public on the proposed smoking ban within the city limits, it sure got some on Monday night.
The city conducted the public hearing on the smoking ban ordinance at 6 p.m. prior to its regular 7 p.m. meeting in city hall. There was a standing-room-only crowd inside the meeting room.
About 30 of the 50 individuals in attendance decided to speak. Mayor Ron Blum gave each person a three-minute limit.
There were no interruptions from the aldermen or from Blum unless a person went over his or her three-minute time limit.
The aldermen made no decisions on the proposed ordinance on Monday. They thought it would better serve the community if they would sift through the information presented during the next two weeks and bring the topic up again on July 21.
“I would like to wait until the next meeting so I can do some research on my own and take into consideration what was said tonight,” Ward 1 Alderman Nathan Tate said during the board’s regular meeting.
The other three aldermen had no problem with doing things that way.
The majority of people who spoke on Monday were against the smoking ban, which in a nutshell would prohibit indoor smoking in all public facilities within the city limits.
Those places would include bars, restaurants, businesses and service organizations.
And, the majority of those individuals who spoke against the ban were from a bar or service organization.
“Let these businesses decide whether to have smoking or not,” said Marc Beckman, who represented the St. Clair Elks Lodge. “That’s the American way.
“I don’t think we have to pass a law just to pass a law.”
Beckman also said that the Elks contributes more than $100,000 to St. Clair in various ways on an annual basis.
Fred Arflack, the commander of the St. Clair American Legion Post 347, had similar thoughts.
“All we ask is we be able to make the decision ourself. We feel we should have that right.”
Other Legion representatives also spoke before the board.
“There’s no reason a board of people has to govern each individual business,” James Joseph Myers said. “We should be able to do what we want.”
Lon Baker said that the local Legion “does a lot for our community. We fought for our rights and freedoms. We ask you to respect our rights and freedoms.”
Bar owners who spoke basically said if smoking were outlawed in their establishments, they would close.
“About 95 percent of my customers are smokers,” Karen Wideman of the Double Bull said. “If I were to ban smokers, I’d go out of business.
“I am a bar. I have my own power to put a sign on my door that doesn’t allow smoking.”
Debby Wenzel of Beckie’s Depot also chimed in.
“Most of my customers are retired workers,” she said. “If I don’t have these people, I will close. Let the city regulate what it owns. What I do in my own building is my business.”
The one restaurant of sorts that was represented on Monday was Jerron’s Catering, which serves meals to the public in its facility about one day a week.
“If you take another one of our freedoms away, you’ll continue to whittle them away one by one,” owner Diane Fick said.
Jessica Carr, whose family owns Jerron’s, said: “If we don’t want to go into a place with smoking, we won’t go.
“Our customers also will lose if there is a smoking ban. We feel we should have the right to let our customers smoke.”
Favor Smoking Ban
Joette Reidy, one of the people who spearheaded the smoking ban in Washington that passed last year, was in attendance on Monday.
“I’m a proud resident of Washington,” she said. “And I was never as proud as when my city passed that ordinance.”
Reidy presented some facts that included that there currently are several countries with no-smoking laws in place, 32 states and 26 cities in Missouri “who also have taken steps to go smoke-free.”
She said before Monday’s meeting she talked to Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy.
“She said no businesses there have closed because of the smoking ordinance,” Reidy said. “The business owners were fearful, but they have not seen people leave.
“The American Cancer Society says people who do leave usually come back within two or three weeks.”
She also said that she got 1,800 people to sign a petition in her city in favor of the smoking ban.
“When we began our mission, we educated ourselves and then we educated others.”
Reidy admitted the first signatures were “easy” because they included family and friends.
“Then we went up to the smokers and businesses,” she said. “You’d be surprised the number of people we had sign the petition with a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other.
“Smoking was a non-issue for our businesses. It was a risky step, but it was the right decision in the long run. We’ve been thanked by thousands of people.”
Many who spoke against the ban made comments saying St. Clair doesn’t have to follow what other communities, like Washington, do in order to be successful.
Julie Hook of Washington shared some smoking facts with those in attendance. She said deaths from secondhand smoke are the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and that about 41,000 individuals die from it in our country every year.
“There is no safe level of secondhand smoke,” she said.
Adding to the emotions of that information, Daniel Griffin, a Washington University-St. Louis student, said, “I urge all of you to consider the real cost of not having an ordinance.”
Traci Kennedy of Columbia, who represents Smoke-Free Missouri, said “Smoking is such an important health issue.”
“Statewide, we don’t have a law. We want cities to do something about this now.”
Mallory Morris, a local teenager, said she believes “I don’t feel we should have to go out and inhale everyone else’s smoke. We shouldn’t have to go into town and deal with this.”
After everyone had had a first chance to speak, Blum allowed a few to speak for a second time.
One of those was former Ward 1 Alderman Connie Marrocco, who perhaps came up with the only lighthearted moment of the night with the group.
“I find it interesting that people who do not live here come here and tell us how to run our town that’s been here for a long time,” she said. “I don’t want to say they’re ‘blowing smoke,’ but I have to.”
Blum then thanked everyone for attending.
“I appreciate everyone’s opinion,” he said. “You gave the board some valuable information.”
He adjourned the public hearing at 6:52 p.m.
During the regular board meeting, Blum made a couple of comments.
“I was impressed with the turnout,” he said. “There were a lot of good comments.”
He then said it was interesting to hear the number of individuals who used to smoke but no longer do and quit for health reasons. He also mentioned the teenager’s comment about the secondhand smoke and how you can’t get away from it.
“There is nothing in this ordinance that takes away anyone’s right to smoke,” he said. “All it is saying is to respect other people’s rights while in a public facility.”
He also reminded people in attendance that the ordinance can be amended if desired.
“It’s (ordinance) something we need to carefully think about.”