Measure would ban smoking in public places

Thursday, January 22, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A state lawmaker has filed a joint House-Senate resolution that would let voters decide whether to add to the state constitution a ban on smoking in public places.

Rep. Joe Fallert, a Ste. Genevieve Democrat, said he's not sure the measure he introduced last week will gain much traction this session, but he thinks it's an issue important enough to put before voters.

"It's just kind of a blanket no-smoking resolution," Fallert said, noting there are no exemptions in the initial wording for places like bars or casinos. "I know that if it gets anywhere there's room for compromise."

The only other time a statewide smoking ban has been proposed in the legislature was last year, when a bill by Sen. Joan Bray, a St. Louis Democrat, received little support and never got a hearing.

Local bans

Several Missouri communities have instituted their own smoking bans in recent years, including Kansas City, the largest city in the state with such restrictions. Its ban includes bars and restaurants but exempts casino floors, where no one younger than 21 is allowed.

Many other cities, including St. Louis, have rejected attempts to ban smoking in public places. Much of the anti-ban argument has revolved around the feared economic effect of such a measure, especially at bars and restaurants.

Before Kansas City's ban on smoking went into effect in June, the local Chamber of Commerce's board voted to support it, mainly for health reasons, said Pam Whiting, vice president of communication for the chamber.

"At the time we were considering the petition, a number of restaurant members expressed their concerns," Whiting said. However, since the city's ban was enacted, Whiting said she hasn't heard many complaints.

Cancer Society support

Theresa Ruiz, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society in Kansas City, said a statewide ban would help people whose workplaces allow smoking.

"We've seen such a large number of individuals coming in for programs and services we provide who had lung cancer and had never been smokers," Ruiz said. "Many of those people worked in restaurants and bars that usually don't provide insurance. That's one of the things that propels us to get involved."

She said the American Cancer Society is generally opposed to exemptions in smoking bans, such as the one for casinos. But when Kansas City's ban was up for debate, the national board felt "it was a step in the right direction," Ruiz said.

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