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Voting Matters: The Springfield Smokefree Air Act

On June 5, 2012, Springfield voters will encounter the following question on their election ballot [pdf]:

"Shall the City of Springfield, Missouri repeal sections 58-1000 through 58-1017, known as the Springfield Smokefree Air Act of 2011, adopted by the voters on April 5, 2011, and replace it with new sections 58-1 through 58-3 which readopt the City's prior ordinances regulating smoking within the City as that law existed on the date immediately prior to the April 5, 2011 adoption of the Smokefree Air Act of 2011?"

History

This ballot issue originated in 2010, when Springfield coalition One Air Alliance sponsored a proposed ordinance to restrict smoking in the City's public areas and workplaces. When Springfield City Council was unwilling to pass the ordinance without adding amendments, One Air Alliance circulated a petition, placing it on the April 2011 ballot, where it was passed in its entirety by voters. Known as the Smokefree Air Act, the new Article replaced all prior City smoking ordinances.

Opponents of the Act subsequently collected enough signatures on their own petition to place a complete repeal of the Act on the June 5, 2012 ballot.

Springfield Smokefree Air Act of 2011

The Smokefree Air Act of 2011 banned smoking in all enclosed public places and places of employment and within five feet of outside entrances, operable windows and ventilation systems. It prohibited smoking in bars, restaurants and private clubs and included e-cigarettes in the ban. Private vehicles and residences were not regulated by the Act.

In May of 2012, Springfield City Council unanimously agreed to grant exemptions [pdf] for the bingo halls, cigar bars, tobacco shops and private clubs already in operation on April 2011 -- the date the Smokefree Air Act went into effect. Council also lifted the ban on e-cigarettes. Smoking in bars and restaurants, however, remained prohibited. Despite the attempt at compromise, both supporters and opponents of the smoking ban were dissatisfied with the changes.

Support for the Smokefree Air Act

Sponsors and supporters of the smoking ban include One Air Alliance and the group Clean Air Springfield. Both groups describe themselves as community health coalitions comprised of Springfield citizens, businesses, organizations and health care professionals. They count the American Red Cross, American Heart and Lung associations and the American Cancer Society among their partners.

Both groups felt the previous smoking ordinance was inadequate to protect public and employee health from the toxins of secondhand smoke. They cite the findings of a 2006 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, "Scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be harmful to your health."

The 2006 report goes on to state that "separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate secondhand smoke exposure."

Advocates of the smoking ban believe that when people smoke in public places they affect the health of everyone around them, imposing on each individual's right to breathe clean air without danger.

Opposition to the Act

Opponents of the Smokefree Air Act include Live Free Springfield, the group responsible for placing the repeal on the June ballot. Live Free Springfield describes itself as an organization made up of a non-smoking majority. They state their initiative has "nothing to do with smoking and is not about health." Instead, they reject the government's interference in the lives of citizens and business owners. Citizens already have the choice to breathe clean air, Live Free suggests, by choosing whether or not to patronize businesses that allow smoking. Those decisions will affect local market conditions.

In addition to the threat on constitutional rights, Live Free suggests that the Smokefree Act has had a negative effect on area businesses. They assert that some local businesses, such as bars and bowling alleys, are struggling; laying off workers or closing in response to the decreased patronage and revenue resulting from the ban.

At the state level, Rep. Melissa Leach, R-Springfield, has introduced a bill in the Missouri House of Representatives that would prohibit local governments from restricting the use of electronic cigarettes and exempt any public place deriving at least 60 percent of its retail sales from alcohol, tobacco or entertainment from local smoking ordinances.

Rep. Leach described Springfield's smoking ban as a "job killer" and seeks to give business owners greater control over their own establishments.

Voting Matters is a series of articles written by Library staff to provide information and resources during the 2012 political season.

 


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