The city of St. Louis implemented a smoking ban on January 1, 2011. There’s one place, however, where people still smoke with impunity:
The 109-year-old downtown Missouri Athletic Club may wriggle free from the city’s smoking ban.
City officials have prepared an agreement which exempts the private, invitation-only establishment — long frequented by judges, attorneys and politicians — from the municipal no-smoking ordinance.
The club, known as the MAC, has flouted the law since it was enacted Jan. 1, 2011, openly leaving ashtrays in the lounge, hosting hazy boxing matches and allowing men in suits to gather weekly at the bar with tumblers in one hand, cigars in the other.
The city cited and fined the club twice. The citations ended up in municipal court, where attorneys began working out a deal.
On Thursday, city Health Director Pam Walker presented a draft agreement to her advisory commission, the Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals, arguing that the nonprofit MAC is a unique entity, governed neither by rules for private clubs nor by those for businesses.
Hat tip to Michael Siegel, who inducts St. Louis health director Pam Walker into his Colonel Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame for carving out this exemption for local elites.
St. Louis isn’t the first city to engage in this kind of smoking ban favoritism. In Washington, DC, city councilman Jack Evans voted in favor of the District’s smoking ban, then took advantage of his position on the council to create special exemptions for organizations he likes:
The city’s smoke-free law provides an economic hardship waiver for struggling bars and restaurants, Evans said, but it leaves no wiggle room for a single event, like the St. Patrick’s Day gala or Fight Night at the Washington Hilton.
“Once a year, 1,000-plus people go there to drink Irish whiskey, smoke cigars and have dinner,” Evans said of the dinner. “Now they’re not allowed to do that. From my reading of the law there’s no other way to get an exemption but to legislate.”
Evans has continued to seek these one-time exemptions while leaving less connected charities who’d like to host cigar events out of luck.
Evans has discovered the pain of having one’s treasured tradition banned by a bunch of meddling bureaucrats. I’d be sympathetic if not for the fact that Evans is one of those meddling bureaucrats. If he doesn’t like the law, he should introduce changes that open up smoking venues to everyone, not just to clubs that happen to have a city councilman in their membership.