Don’t smoke ’em if you got ’em

Brian Brown, ReporterThere are few water-cooler topics in Springfield offices right now more divisive than the smoking ban, which will be enforced by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department beginning June 11.

I’ve seen my friends argue on Facebook, heard City Council members debate aspects of the ordinance in session, and listened to business owners express their concerns about the impact of the coming law.

No matter who I talk to, it seems the opinions people hold, on both sides of the issue, are strong.

With 53 percent of the vote on April 5, voters in the city approved the ban that will affect all indoor workplaces and enclosed public buildings. Businesses in Springfield will need to post signs at the entrances to their companies, and no one will be allowed to smoke within five feet of doors, operable windows or ventilation systems.

To read the ordinance, print a smoke-free sign or see what it means to be compliant, visit springfieldmo.gov/smokefree.

One Air Alliance, an organization that promotes smoke-free environments, has received a $70,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to help businesses transition to compliance with the non-smoking ordinance. One Air is offering free signs and educational materials for Springfield companies preparing for the law. For more information, visit oneairalliance.org.

In researching this topic for the May 2 print story, “Proprietors prepare for smoking ban,” I was surprised to learn just how many cities and states have similar bans in place. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 states plus the District of Columbia have outlawed smoking in the workplace. Springfield will be the 454th municipality to put a smoking ban in place. Missouri, in case you were wondering, is tied with Indiana as having the fifth-highest percentage of smokers: 23.1 percent.

I found in my research that southern states are the least likely to prohibit smoking in the workplace. Though, that could be slowly changing, as well. Texas legislators are working now to establish a ban there. Rules and exceptions to such bans are not uncommon, and seem to vary from city to city and state to state.

The Springfield ordinance, which petitioners said was designed to be clear and comprehensive, won’t be entirely so – hotels will be allowed to rent up to 25 percent of their units as smoking rooms.

Hotelier Greg Walker saw that as a point of contention. He said the health of 25 percent of hotel workers must not matter to the petitioners, Clean Air Springfield.

Clean Air spokeswoman Carrie Reynolds said there was some debate about how “public” hotel rooms were. She said those who rent rooms use them as a temporary residence. This, she felt, could open the ordinance up to a legal challenge.

Interestingly, in the event that any group should decide to challenge the law, the city of Springfield would have to defend the very ordinance its legislative body, the City Council, couldn’t agree upon.

Due to the widespread nature of similar bans across the country, it’s unclear what effect challenging the law would have.

One brief conversation that I had as I compiled information for the article spoke volumes to me about the trend itself.

A spokeswoman for Chase Bank, who did not agree to be interviewed – and clearly did not live in Springfield – wanted to know more about why I had called Chase to comment on our smoking-ban piece. I explained that Chase was a large employer in our area, and I wanted to know what it would have to do to comply with the law.

She didn’t understand, she said. “You mean, people are allowed to smoke in the workplace there?”

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