Cape voters reject public smoking ban

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Doc Cain, left, owner of Port Cape Girardeau and member of "Stand Up Cape, What's Next?", congratulates the crowd in his bar after unofficial results came in showing the smoking ban question was defeated 3,997 to 3,672, or 52.12 percent to 47.88 percent, on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

Cape Girardeau voters narrowly defeated a hotly contested smoking ban Tuesday. The outcome was an apparent rejection of a well-heeled group of supporters who spent more than $83,000 to get out its message of the hazards of secondhand smoke.

The controversial issue, which has been debated since November when Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape began gathering signatures to put it on the ballot, failed by just 325 votes, with 3,997 against and 3,672 voting in favor, with all precincts reporting.

At Port Cape Girardeau, Doc Cain hoisted a cigar in triumph in front of fellow members of Stand Up Cape, What's Next?, the group that raised only $3,000 but preached property rights and unfair government intrusion. He hugged his wife and shook hands in the bar, with several raising their arms in victory.

"This is a great day for Cape Girardeau businesses, especially those that allow smoking," Cain said. "It shows that you just can't come into our community and take over, force people to think the way you think."

The mood was decidedly more somber at Beef O'Brady's, where Smoke-Free Cape kicked out the media from a back room when word came that the ban had failed.

Spokeswoman Shelly Wood said later that group members met privately to gather their thoughts.

"Of course we're disappointed," she said. "We knew it would be a close race the whole time. We knew it was possible we would not win. But we're proud of the work we did in raising awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke."

According to the city's charter, another initiative petition cannot be submitted to implement a smoking ban for one year. Wood said it was "too early to say" whether the group would try again a year from now.

Dale Humphries, left, with Smoke-Free Cape reflects on the defeat of the smoking ban for Cape Girardeau after hearing the report from Stacy Reliford, right, a lobbyist with the American Cancer Society, Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at Beef O'Brady's. Dan Carrigan, center, also waited for election results. (Fred Lynch)

Cape Girardeau was the only Missouri city that defeated a smoking ban Tuesday, with O'Fallon, Springfield and Webb City passing similar bans on smoking. In Springfield, 53 percent of voters said yes; in O'Fallon it passed with 72 percent of the vote; and 56 percent of Webb City voters approved the ban there.

Some voters at the Cape Girardeau polls Tuesday, however, said they found the ban too restrictive.

"I feel it should be the right of the individual business person whether smoking should be allowed or not," said Robert Gentry, who owns the Corner Store on Broadway and doesn't smoke. "I have strong feelings about individual rights."

Greg Tlapek, a local Libertarian who has run for Congress in the past, even spent two hours walking city streets with a sign that simply said: "Vote no." He, too, said he is an advocate for individual rights.

"It is the owner's property, and if they want to allow smoking, they should be allowed," Tlapek said. "There are already a lot of restaurants that don't allow smoking. Surely we can tolerate the few that do."

But, as the vote indicated, not everyone agreed.

Laura Woldtvedt voted in favor of the smoking ban early Tuesday at the Arena Building.

"I'm very much an anti-smoking advocate," she said.

The ban, which would have taken effect in 60 days had it passed, was put on the ballot by the Cape Girardeau City Council after the signatures were verified. Some council members expressed concern then about the ban, saying it was overreaching and was not the government's place to outlaw the consumption of a legal product on the property of a private business owner.

Mayor Harry Rediger said Tuesday he had mixed feelings about the election results. He is not a smoker and understands that smoking is a health hazard, he said. But, in the end, his concerns about government interference were paramount.

"To me, this proposal overstepped its bounds," he said. "It should, in my opinion, have been a business owner's decision how it wants to treat its business."

Thirty-one percent of Cape Girardeau's registered voters went to the polls Tuesday, with 7,695 casting ballots.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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