Statewide smoking ban proposed in House

The proposal follows passage of similar local bans.
Sophomore Tom Palmer smokes a cigarette Wednesday near the Fine Arts Building. Legislators in Jefferson City have proposed a statewide smoking ban that would prohibit smoking on campus and in other public areas.

A proposed statewide comprehensive smoking ban would prohibit smoking on university campuses and in other locations.

Although the bill does not specifically ban smoking in higher education facilities, smoking would be prohibited "within all enclosed public places within the state of Missouri" and within 15 feet of entrances of such places. The only exceptions would be private homes, tobacco shops, smoking-designated hotel rooms and outdoor workplaces.

Rep. Walt Bivins, R-St. Louis, said he decided to sponsor the bill after a similar ban passed in St. Louis County, with 65 percent support from voters. He said many people have voiced their support for the law.

"I've been surprised by the number of representatives and house staff who have come up and thanked me for sponsoring this legislation," he said.

Other supporters of smoking bans and Bivins said this year's measure has a better chance at passing because many similar laws have passed on local levels. Columbia passed a citywide public smoking ban in 2007 and is one of at least 14 cities in Missouri to enact such a widespread ban.

Studies have shown smoking bans to be effective in reducing the number of smokers in a population, Columbia Tobacco Prevention Initiative coordinator Traci Harr said. She said the local laws have created impetus for a similar measure covering the entire state.

"If we don't see this passed this year, I think we'll still see the momentum continue on a local level," Harr said.

Although the bill has not yet been assigned to a committee in the House, it is already facing opposition in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-Kansas City, said passing a statewide bill similar to local laws during the economic downturn will hurt businesses even more and opposes the measure.

"Larger cities have taken the step, but there is still much resistance from businesses, such as restaurant owners from across the state who are already facing challenges," Shields said. "I anticipate they will likely oppose the ban because of an expected hit to their business."

The 2007 MU Wellness Survey said 90.4 percent of students do not smoke. Graduate student Jenna Jordan, president of the MU chapter of Peers Advocating Smoke-free Solutions, said more laws aimed at curbing smoking might drive students who smoke to quit.

"The great thing about these policies is that they encourage current smokers to quit and fewer people start smoking," she said.

Sophomore MSA Sen. Jon Cleair said anti-smoking laws stigmatize those who choose to do it. Cleair, who does not smoke, co-authored a resolution last year to allow students to smoke outside apartment buildings at Mizzou Quads and Tiger Diggs.

"I think smoking is a personal choice," he said. "For the government to order businesses to ban smoking in their own establishments is unacceptable."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 percent of Missouri adults smoke, the fourth-highest rate in the nation. Also, the state has the nation's second-lowest tobacco tax, at 17 cents per pack.

Medical professor Kevin Everett said the proposed law would help reduce the amount of secondhand smoke and benefit both workers and patrons of local businesses.

"I think it would be a step forward for the public health of Missourians," Everett said.

Graduate student Thomas Kane, who smokes, said the law would not bother him very much because non-smoking rules and laws already cover so many buildings on campus.

"I've been othered enough," Kane said. "If there weren't already indoor smoking laws, this could be really annoying."

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