Washington City Council members have agreed to amend the city’s new smoking ordinance to accommodate a 144-year-old Washington manufacturing firm.
After a discussion at Tuesday evening’s meeting, the council directed City Counselor Mark Piontek to prepare an amendment that would let the Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe factory allow smoking in part of the building only for “demonstration” of its product.
Mayor Sandy Lucy said she spoke with Phil Morgan, general manager of the factory, who said his “biggest concern was to be able to demonstrate his product.”
Since the Washington Smoke Free Air Act of 2013 was adopted in January, owners of a handful of manufacturing plants, primarily tool and die operations, sent letters objecting to the new law, saying it will disrupt their operations.
Some objected on the grounds that it is a government intrusion into a company’s operation.
The city also has received letters from individuals and manufacturers applauding the new law, which goes into effect April 15.
Some council members expressed concerns about the impact on manufacturing plants after Pat Dolan, with GH Tool & Mold, said the company allows workers in the plant area to smoke.
While no action was taken, some council members indicated that they may discuss changes in the law for industries.
“I think we forgot about our industries,” said Ward 4 Councilman Joe Holtmeier, who said he fears the law will cost industries “a lot of money.”
“It should be up to the company and the managers,” said Walt Meyer.
But other members said they have heard many more positive remarks from citizens and businesses about the new law.
“So, are we saying we should worry about the people who work in restaurants and bars, but not the people who work in factories?” asked Lucy.
Dolan said he objects to the law because it infringes on individual rights and because the business he works for will be impacted. The plant, he said, has very high ceilings and ventilation systems and workers are not in close proximity. If someone objects to another worker smoking it is addressed, Dolan said.
“For us to have to implement a policy where they have to go outside to smoke, it will disrupt our operation,” Dolan said.
He explained that the equipment in the plant is very expensive and requires close attention.
Councilman Steve Sullentrup asked what happens “when nature calls?” Dolan acknowledged that after a machine is running the operator can leave his post to go to the bathroom or get a soda.
“What’s the difference with that and going outside the building to smoke?” Sullentrup asked.
Dolan said the concern is that some may abuse that which could lead to “dissension” among workers.
Sullentrup said he’s toured the plant and remarked that it’s a “really nice operation.” He said the council would take Dolan’s comments “under consideration.”
“This is something we should talk about,” Meyer said.
Later in the discussion Sullentrup noted that Missouri Meerschaum is in the business of making pipes and offered the motion to allow smoking in the building for “demonstrating pipes only.”
Joette Reidy, a leader of the Breathe Easy Washington movement which promoted passage of the law, remarked during the discussion that the law is important to all workers, in manufacturing jobs as well as other businesses, because of the proven health risks of secondhand smoke.
Even if there is no visible smoke or odor because of high ceilings and good ventilation, the carcinogens from the smoke are still there, Reidy noted.
“So many people working in factories are so happy this law was passed,” Reidy said.
Connie Groff, council member, said there is much more data now on the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. She noted that 80 percent of the people in the community support the law.
“We’re not telling people to stop smoking,” Groff said, “just take it outside.”
Mayor Lucy said the city stands ready to help companies and businesses adopt smoking cessation programs for their workers. She said she has arranged for someone from the American Cancer Society to work with management at Missouri Meerschaum on such a program.