Everything You Wanted to Know About the St. Louis Smoking Ban -- But Were Afraid to Ask

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With all the hoopla surrounding the new smoking ban, we've yet to find a good resource offering a list of city establishments where patrons can still light up. Certain bars are exempt, right? How's a smoker to know?!

As it turns out, there's good reason for the confusion: The city has yet to release any such list. But officials promise that will change soon, possibly as early as today. (You're encouraged to check the Department of Health's website; we'll also stay on the story here at Daily RFT.)

But even that won't bring an end to the discussion. Why? Because health inspections (which have been occurring in bars across the city in recent weeks) will continue into the weeks ahead. That official list of exempt establishments will continue to evolve.

Say what? You're tellingus the ban was legislated a year ago, enacted two days ago -- and it's still not clear exactly where we're allowed to smoke?!

You're welcome to criticize the city all you want for the confusion; after all, The Daily Beast ranked St. Louis as the No. 6 city with a smoking problem in a new article this morning (nearly 23 percent of us light up, the website claims), so we understand your frustration. But our advice is to relax.

The most important thing smokers should know is this: If the owners of your favorite tap room believe they meet the exemption criteria -- that is, if they think their bar is less than 2,000 square feet, with less than 25 percent of sales going toward food -- they are permitted to continue allowing patrons to light up while waiting for the official city exemption. In other words, the city believes that if you're smart enough to open a bar, you're smart enough to know how to use a tape measure and calculator.

The bottom line for patrons, city officials tell Daily RFT: If your preferred watering hole looks like a closet and doesn't seem to pump out a lot of grub, you can expect ashtrays to be waiting for you.

However: That doesn't mean bar owners don't have to apply for exemption; they still do, and likely already have. (In fact, we were told that as of last week, 105 bars had applied for exemption, and 37 had been inspected.)

According to the city, there are only sixteen health inspectors who are -- right at this very moment! -- squiring around the city, armed with tape measurers and clipboards. But even though there are 765 drinking establishments operating in the city, those inspectors will only have to visit bars who have applied for exemptions.

Final question we know you were dying to ask: Does that mean scheming barkeeps can continue encouraging patrons to smoke, even if their establishment doesn't meet exemption criteria? As the city's Kara Bowlin admits, the answer to that is, technically, yes. The city isn't going to police a bar unless they start getting complaints. So if you're a non-smoker who suspects your larger-than-average bar is breaking the rules, you're encouraged to call the Citizens' Service Bureau at 314-622-4800, visit them online or tweet @stlcsb today.

Any more questions? Let us know in the comment section. In addition to sharing that list of exempted bars as soon we can get our hands on it, we also promise to stay on this story as it develops.

Oh, and for those of you wondering about St. Louis County -- they have enacted their own ban, and they actually have an up-to-date list of organizations that have been granted exemptions. You can find that here.

UPDATE: This post was updated at 12:25 to reflect that one ban is not necessarily stricter than the other.

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1 comments
Bill Hannegan
Bill Hannegan

I have to admit that Health Director Walker has been very reasonable about enforcement of this ordinance. Yet the under 25 percent food sales requirement for exemption is not in the law and might not stand up in court if challenged.

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