ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Anti-smoking advocates are pushing for a countywide ban in St. Charles County, and activists in neighboring St. Louis County are considering a push for a stricter law.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that health groups in St. Charles County have launched an initiative petition drive. The goal is a ballot measure next Nov. 6.
Anti-smoking activists in St. Louis County may mount a petition campaign for a public vote also on Nov. 6 to end exemptions in its 7-year-old ban, including those allowing smoking in some bars and casinos.
Supporters say reducing exposure to secondhand smoke helps reduce heart disease, cancer and strokes.
"It's time to close the gaps in current law because everyone deserves the right to breathe smoke-free air no matter where they live, work and play," said Karen Englert, Missouri governmental relations director for the American Heart Association. The organization donated $355,000 to the newly formed Committee for a Healthy Community set up to help pay for the St. Charles County drive and its possible St. Louis County counterpart.
Opponents say the restrictions unfairly infringe on the rights of businesses and their customers to make their own choices.
"Business owners ought to be able to run their businesses the way they see fit," said Carl Bearden, a former Republican state representative who helped block the St. Charles County Council's 2012 plan to put a ban on the ballot. "Customers ought to be able to go where they want to go."
The new St. Charles County proposal would prohibit smoking in all enclosed public places — bars, restaurants, stores, the casino, hotels, motels and membership clubs. It would also include vehicles owned, leased or operated by an employer. It would impose a 15-foot limit away from buildings for those smoking outside.
Electronic nicotine delivery devices such as e-cigarettes and vaping products would be prohibited.
The measure would apply to municipalities and unincorporated areas. O'Fallon and Lake Saint Louis are currently the only St. Charles County cities with smoking bans.
Supporters include the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, the March of Dimes, the Crider Health Center and the Missouri Nurses Association. BJC HealthCare's two hospitals in the county also are taking part.
About 20,000 signatures will be necessary to get the charter amendment on the ballot.
St. Louis County voters approved a limited smoking ban in 2009 and it went into effect in 2011.
Exemptions include casino gambling floors and establishments with food sales that total less than 25 percent of food and alcohol sales. Stricter municipal bans with no exemptions for bars are in place in Clayton, Brentwood, Creve Coeur, Kirkwood and Ballwin.
A petition drive to put a new countywide measure on the ballot would require about 25,000 signatures.