Cape Girardeau chamber votes to oppose citywide smoking ban

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Those fighting a proposed smoking ban gained an influential ally Tuesday when the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce voted to oppose the ban, which it called "overly restrictive" and an "issue of individual rights and government intervention."

The chamber's board voted 16-2 to oppose the ban, which would prohibit smoking in all public workplaces, including bars, restaurants, private clubs and casinos. The election is April 5.

The chamber, which has around 1,200 members, released a statement Tuesday that asked voters to consider whether they believe government should dictate legal activities like smoking on private property.

"There is concern about growing government intervention into private business," said John Mehner, chamber president and CEO. The chamber said in the statement that customers have a choice as to what businesses they support and that, in the work environment, people are only subjected to secondhand smoke by choice.

The proposed ban also does nothing to protect those who don't have a choice -- children who live in homes with smokers, the chamber said. Instead, the chamber said it is more important to work with employers to offer smoking cessation programs.

The chamber also rejected claims that a smoking ban would affect business, saying there is no definitive evidence either way.

The group that is pushing for the smoking ban, Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape, issued a statement expressing disappointment after learning of the chamber's position. Chambers of commerce in other cities have supported smoke-free workplace laws, including Louisville, Ky., Bloomington, Ind., Kansas City, Mo., Indianapolis and Chattanooga, Tenn., the group said in its statement.

Smoke-Free Cape cited a U.S. Office of the Surgeon General conclusion that adopting smoke-free workplace laws is a "wise business decision with numerous cost savings to business." The group also said statistics show that secondhand smoke costs the U.S. economy almost $10 billion a year: $5 billion in medical costs and another $4.6 billion in lost wages.

Smoke-Free Cape also took issue with the chamber position that people have a choice.

"Unlike many other personal behaviors, smoking impacts more than the person making the choice," the statement said. "When people smoke in public places they affect the health of everyone around them."

The group that is encouraging voters to say no to the ban, Stand Up Cape, What's Next?, was grateful for the chamber's support, said spokesman Doc Cain. Cain said he shares the chamber's concerns about government intrusion and that a business owner should not be prohibited from allowing legal activities on their property.

Cain said the chamber's position should validate his beliefs to voters, who might be dismissive of him because he has a financial stake as owner of Port Cape Girardeau.

"They're our business body in the community, and they're making the right choice," Cain said. "It's the same reasons we've been talking about all along -- it is too restrictive. I'm thrilled they've made the determination."

The group, made up of residents and several bar and restaurant owners, will file its campaign committee forms with the state by the Sunday deadline, he said, and spend the last month before the election getting its message out.

"We're going to work hard to defeat this thing," Cain said.

Meanwhile, chamber members said they felt good about the organization's position. Joel Niekirk, chamber board president-elect, made the motion in the meeting to stand against the ban. As vice president of operations at Midamerica Hotels Corp., he helps oversee about 30 Burger King restaurants, a number in places where there are smoking bans.

"Looking at this ordinance, it was just to the extreme restrictive, hurting our ability to market to those that choose smoking as a preference," he said.

Chris Seib, a chamber member who owns the Pink Galleon in Cape Girardeau and two nightclubs in St. Louis County, also was happy with the chamber decision.

"It will put my business in jeopardy," Seib said of the ban. "About 80 percent of my customer base smokes."

And while the Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape said they want to protect workers, some workers said they didn't need protecting.

"I'm dead set against this nonsmoking business," said Sharon Davis, a bartender at the Cape Girardeau VFW who smokes. "The way I look at it, it's up to the individual. People can work wherever they want. They know we smoke here. If they can't stand it, why come here?"

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent Address:

1267 N. Mount Auburn Road, Cape Girardeau MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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