Medical Evidence Helps Hold Off Smoking Bans in St. Louis Region

Published October 8, 2008

Despite the smoking ban juggernaut that has run over other towns, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and St. Louis County Council have both declined to impose such a ban on area bars and restaurants.

Smoking ban opponents have shown these St. Louis leaders an extensive array of medical and economic studies doubting the dangers of secondhand smoke and warning of the likely harm a smoking ban would do to St. Louis businesses.

Most influential among these studies is “Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality in a prospective study of Californians, 1960-98,” by James E. Enstrom and Geoffrey C. Kabat, the longest-running and highest-quality secondhand smoke study ever done.

Published in the prestigious British Medical Journal but said to be completed “too late” (2003) to be included in the U.S. Surgeon General’s June 2006 report, the Enstrom and Kabat study found no link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer or heart disease.

Economy Harmed

St. Louis leaders have seen firsthand the negative economic effects of smoking bans on the Missouri towns of Ballwin, Arnold, and Columbia and on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

In Ballwin, a smoking ban imposed in 2006 caused several bars and restaurants to relocate or close. The Seventh Inn, one of the St. Louis area’s only five-star restaurants, reported an immediate 35 percent drop in business.

The city of Arnold briefly imposed a strict smoking ban and soon modified it to allow smoking in bars and restaurants in response to economic losses.

The Columbia smoking ban was reviewed by St. Louis-based Federal Reserve economist Michael Pakko after its first year. In a report released in December 2007, Pakko determined the ban cut bar business 11 percent, and restaurants that serve alcohol saw a 6.5 percent decline.

Tax Revenues Fell

Though many Columbia businesses were smoke-free before the smoking ban was imposed, Pakko determined the ban caused a 3.5 percent to 4.0 percent drop in the Columbia bar and restaurant business overall. As a result, Columbia lost $85,000 in tax revenue due to the ban during its first year, Pakko reported.

Across the Mississippi River in Illinois, where a ban outlaws smoking inside bars, restaurants, casinos, and nearly every other public place and workplace, officials report casino revenue has dropped 17 percent. Local newspapers have run articles about small bars flouting the law.

Voluntary Bans Working

While St. Louis government is showing prudent restraint in its public smoking laws, St. Louis businesses are taking the initiative to clear their own air of tobacco smoke.

Many St. Louis restaurants, and several excellent bars, have voluntarily gone smoke-free.

Two popular bars, the Royale and rBar, systematically polled their likely patrons and determined a no-smoking policy would work for them. Two weeks after a much-publicized decision to ban smoking in the Royale, owner Steven Fitzpatrick Smith reported a 13 percent increase in business.

In the absence of a government-imposed smoking ban, these bars can experiment with carving out a smoke-free niche in the St. Louis market knowing they can always lift the restriction if it becomes detrimental to their business.

Bill Hannegan ([email protected]) directs Keep St. Louis Free, a group formed in 2005 to help defeat a proposed St. Louis County smoking ban.

For more information …

“Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality in a prospective study of Californians, 1960-98,” by James E. Enstrom and Geoffrey C. Kabat:

“The Economic Impact of a Smoking Ban in Columbia, Missouri,” by Michael R. Pakko: