On Monday, the Sedalia City Council agreed to start drafting an ordinance to declare Sedalia a smoke-free city. While details of the ordinance, including if there would be an across-the-board ban, have yet to be determined, the action of starting the ordinance is an important first step, said Jeanean Sieving, Pettis County Health Department nurse and chairwoman of Clean Air Sedalia.
“We’ve been working on this project for five years now, educating the public and the council about the dangers of secondhand smoke,” she said. “Quite frankly, I was a little shocked on Monday when the council, without much discussion, decided to really pursue the ordinance. I thought it would take us longer and we’d have to really fight to convince them. I’m very glad it didn’t.”
After the council meeting Monday, City Administrator Gary Edwards told the Democrat city staff would begin looking at other cities that had gone smoke-free and the ordinances used.
“Right now there are a lot of details to decide,” he said. “My impression is that (council) is interested in an all-inclusive ban that would include restaurants and bars, but once they get more information they may decide to bring that back some.”
On Thursday, Sieving said she’d like to see an across-the-board ban that would include all public buildings, offices, restaurants, bars and private clubs, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2591.
“Ultimately it’s up to the council to decide where they want to enforce the ban, but (Clean Air Sedalia) will certainly push for a comprehensive ban,” she said. “But we want to make sure it’s fair. Is a restaurant worker’s health issues from secondhand smoke any more important than a bartender’s? We don’t think so.”
Another sticking point is enforcement. When ordinances get into details dealing with restaurants that also serve liquor, the rules can be tricky to explain, said Stan Cowan, a research aid with the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine.
“There’s a lot of confusion if, say, restaurants are covered, but bars aren’t,” Cowan said. “Where does that leave a restaurant that also makes a large portion of its money serving alcohol? How many drinks can a restaurant sell before it’s considered a bar? You can get into technicalities like that and really bog down the entire ordinance. It’s much easier to make a clean sweep across the city.”
Studies have shown secondhand smoke increases respiratory and cardiovascular diseases including lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, Cowan said. But putting aside the obvious health benefits, he added, more recent studies have shown a direct link between smoking bans and positive economic impacts.
“Credible, peer-reviewed studies have shown the vast majority, more than 90 percent, of cities that have introduced some form of smoking ban have had no economic harm,” he said. “In fact, many studies show restaurant and bar profits actually increased after banning smoking.”
There are indirectly related cost savings as well.
“There are several, widely regarded studies that show when communities implement these kinds of ordinances they see an average reduction in hospitalizations for heart attacks by 17 percent,” he said. “When you start to think about the fact that in Missouri, two-thirds of hospital visits are paid for, either in part of full, by some form of government program — whether that be Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, what have you — this can bring real savings to taxpayers over time.”
A study from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services shows if there was a 17 percent reduction in the number of heart attacks, that could save about $700,000 locally in Sedalia. The study also notes Pettis County’s rate of hospitalization for heart attack is 70 percent greater than the Missouri rate.
Sieving said she is “well aware” there likely will be opposition to Sedalia’s inclusion as a smoke-free city, but she said more and more communities are passing ordinances to be smoke-free.
“It’s the norm now,” she said. “Businesses have seen increases in profits once they’ve gone smoke-free and studies have also found big businesses are starting to look if a town is smoke-free or not, if it’s a progressive community they want to be part of.”
According to data provided by Cowan, Missouri has 31 cities with some form of smoking ban, including Chillicothe, Clayton, Fulton, Hannibal, Kirkwood, Lake St. Louis, Maryville, Nixa, Raymore, Rolla, Warrensburg and Washington, which all have similar population sizes to Sedalia. In addition, Nixa had a 36 percent increase in restaurant and bar revenue after going smoke-free.
“We can give (council) all the data and numbers they want about the benefits of having a smoke-free community but at the end of the day, it’s still their decision,” Sieving said. “If they decide to pass the ordinance, in whatever form though we do hope it’s comprehensive, then we’ll start on the next part of doing all we can to help those businesses change to smoke-free environments. This is just the first step on our long road to Sedalia being completely smoke-free.”
Council will consider the smoke-free ordinance during its April 16 or May 6 meeting, depending on how long it takes to collect the necessary information, Edwards said.