ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Johnny White was forced to puff a Marlboro Light in the chilly afternoon sun on Monday outside the Blueberry Hill bar in St. Louis after a new law took effect banning smoking inside most public places.
“The government intrusion on this rubs me the wrong way,” White said as he flipped an ash toward a newly-installed outside ashtray at the suburban St. Louis bar where rock legend Chuck Berry likes to play. “But I get it -- it’s not a big deal. I’ll smoke outside if I have to.”
A new law that took effect Sunday bans smoking in bars and restaurants in St. Louis and the surrounding St. Louis County suburbs, with some exceptions.
St. Louis has come a little late to the anti-smoking game -- 42 of the 60 largest U.S. cities already had indoor bans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The habit may be harder to break in Missouri, which has the fourth highest number of smokers of any U.S. state, behind Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, according to the CDC.
Bar owners are dealing with the new law by adding smoking areas like the one at Blueberry Hill, where a heated covered porch was due to open this week.
“I‘m happy for people’s lungs and their dry cleaning bills,” said Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards. “It should be statewide, nationwide, but we’ll be okay here since its both in the city and the county.”
Exemptions from the ban include casino gambling floors, private residences, bars that take in less than 25 percent of their revenue from food and city bars under 2,000 square feet.
The bar exemptions only last until 2016.
One of the 250 bars seeking an exemption is Jimmy Mac’s near the Hill, St. Louis’ Italian restaurant section.
“The law is unfair to small business,” said owner Jim Mackiewicz. “I‘m going to be fine, but some other guys aren’t going to do so well.”
Bastille owner Bob Hiscox closed his kitchen to qualify for an exemption. He put up an 18-foot-long cigarette sculpture outside his Soulard area bar, along with a sign boasting “This house is a’ smokin’.”
A non-smoker, Hiscox said he disagreed with the law and cited smoker icons like Joan Crawford.
“The cigarette is a treasure of America and this is a stupid law, especially in a depression,” Hiscox said.
Writing by Bruce Olson, Editing by Mary Wisniewski