Cape Girardeau City Council reluctantly asks for smoking ban on April 5 ballot

Most members were reluctant to do it, but the Cape Girardeau City Council asked Monday night for an ordinance that would place a smoking ban on the April 5 ballot that would prohibit lighting up inside the city’s bars, restaurants and other enclosed public places.

The council expects the ordinance to be drafted in time for it to vote at its Jan. 10 meeting, making it all but a certainty that it voters will decide. The council made its decision after hearing from both sides at the study session before its meeting.

About a dozen members of Cape Girardeau Breathe Easy attended the study session. Breathe Easy is the group that gathered the signatures to get the issue on the ballot. Each wore a badge that said, “I support a smoke-free Cape.”

Also in attendance with the group was Stacy Reliford, a lobbyist with the American Cancer Society.

Reliford told the council that the Breathe Easy group is being funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health, which issued it a grant in 2007. The foundation, which was created in 2000 when Blue Cross Blue Shield converted from not-for-profit to for-profit status, is also paying for local radio ads that warn about the dangers of smoking, she said.

About six people with the opposition group, including three who own restaurants, attended the study session.

The council’s options were to either adopt the proposed ban as it was written or send it to voters. But several council members said they found the language too restrictive, as the ban also prohibits smoking inside private clubs, gaming facilities and all restaurants and bars.

“I am reluctant to do anything that will compromise the business community’s ability to operate within its own four walls,” said council member Mark Lanzotti. “I think this should be a state issue that should be done in Jefferson City. But we’re hamstrung by our charter.”

While Lanzotti and council member John Voss said they would like to see something less restrictive, city attorney Eric Cunningham reminded them that the proposal could not be changed.

That left the council feeling like it had no choice.

“I can’t get through the portal to impose this on every business,” Lanzotti said. “Our free market ought to drive that.”

Mayor Harry Rediger agreed: “I’m not ready to adopt this.”

Only council member Loretta Schneider said she supported the ban.

“I think it’s inevitable the whole country will go smoke-free because we know how devastating smoke is,” she said. “I’m very much in favor of a smoking ban.”

Dale Humphries of Breathe Easy said the group does not want to hurt business and doesn’t feel it will. Members presented studies to the council that showed that bars and restaurants in Columbia, Mo., actually saw an increase in business after the smoking ban passed there in 2007.

“People think we have a hidden agenda,” Humphries said. “But for us this has always been a public health issue. There’s no safe level of secondhand smoke.”

Doc Cain, who owns Port Cape Girardeau, said he doesn’t like government telling him what to do with his restaurant. He said he offers smoking and nonsmoking sections. He said to force restaurants to prohibit smoking would cost him customers.

“This would be detrimental to my business,” he said. “This is an invasive, terrible, terrible bill.”

In other action, the council gave preliminary approval to put two other issues on the April 5 ballot: a $72 million bond issue to build a new wastewater treatment plant and an extension of the 20-year quarter-cent capital improvements sales tax to repay those bonds.

source: Southeast Missourian

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