The clock is ticking, and there's less than a month to go until the city and county-wide smoking bans
go into effect. For any sticklers keeping track at home, that's 29 days left for the joint boards of health and hospitals to clarify who, exactly, will be exempt from the ban.
The joint boards met Thursday morning at the City of St. Louis Department of Health to define "storage space," "incidental food sales" and, that all-important question on everyone's minds: "Will smoking be prohibited in tents?"
The dozen or so members of the joint boards sat around a table in the Department of Health offices on Market Street. Another dozen spectators ringed the room, including members of the press, local business owners, advocates and even a local politician -- 28th Ward Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, who sponsored the final version of the bill.
Jerry Paul, the chairman of the Board of Health, led the conversation alongside Pamela Rice Walker, the city's interim director of health.
"We are not here as a legislative authority, we are here to define and advise," Walker said of the Board of Health's role in rule making. However, if the Board of Aldermen disagrees with the Board of Health's clarifications and recommendations, it will have to submit an amendment in the next month and pass it before January 1, when the ban goes into effect.
Bars that are 2,000 square feet or less, excluding the kitchen area, storage area and bathrooms, and whose food sales comprise less than 25 percent of the bar's gross revenue -- i.e. "incidental" food sales -- qualify for an exemption from the law. This is strictly a place for drinkin' and smokin', y'all!
Ryan Loeffler, owner of several Big Daddy's bars in the area, was at the meeting. He said that he was unhappy about one aspect of the exemption: "Enclosed public tents erected on the establishment's property will be included in determining the total square footage."
That's bad news for bars like Big Daddy's in Soulard. That bar would meet the standards for exemption, but only if tents (like the one they've had on their patio for the last nine years) don't count toward the total square footage.
One of Loeffler's employees, who was also at the meeting, put it plainly:
"If we covered our patios and had ample space inside the bar that was non-smoking, I don't see why that would be a problem."
Paul said that the board would take any public comments under advisement, but did not promise changes to the language. For now, at least, the square footage inside tented patios does appear to count toward a bar's total.
Keep St. Louis Free organizer Bill Hannegan
, who has been outspoken against the ban, nagged the board about the importance of issuing exemption certificates in a timely manner.
"This could take a long time," he said. "Bar owners would say, 'I'm not regulated,' they'd feel like they were subject to a law when they should be exempt. The exemptions only last five years. Are they going to lose two years in the process of getting their certificate?"
Walker, however, assured him that the exemptions would be delivered soon after the ban goes into effect. She added that if a bar has applied for an exemption but not yet officially received it, it would not be penalized.
"We won't pull somebody's license because we didn't get them their certificate and they've applied," she said. "That's not on the bar owners, that's on us. We're not trying to be the aldermen and change the intent. It's on us to get the exemptions to them."
In four weeks and a day, smoking will be illegal in the majority of the city's bars, but with the amount of time it's taken to clarify all the specific exemptions in the bill, it's anyone's bet on how long it will take until the law is truly the letter.