Cigars for me but not for thee

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.

As I wrote in 2009:

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.

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Hypocrisy, thy name is DC Councilman Jack Evans

The Washington Post reports that DC city councilman Jack Evans has succeeded in obtaining a waiver from the District’s smoking ban for two groups he personally favors:

Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has asked his council colleagues to keep tradition alive for the all-male Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and another organization, Fight for Children, which hosts an annual smoke-filled professional boxing fundraiser.

Evans, who is a member of the Irish organization, said the measure was narrowly crafted, making an exception for only two nights a year and protecting workers by allowing venue employees to opt out of working the events.

But the bill has proponents of the District’s 2006 workplace smoking ban in a huff.

Angela Bradbery, co-founder of Smokefree DC, urged Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in a letter Monday to veto the legislation that she said would force workers to choose between their health and a paycheck; open the door for other organizations to request exemptions; and send a message that “it’s okay to break the law if you’re on the council or a buddy of a council member.” […]

Despite opposition from the smoke-free camp, he succeeded last week in passing a one-year waiver on a 10 to 3 vote. The bill initially failed to get the necessary nine votes, but Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8 ) switched positions on a second try.

It’s a rare day that I agree with groups like Smokefree DC, but they’re right to oppose the exemptions. Jack Evans attempted to pass one for the Sons of St. Patrick last year as well, at which time I wrote:

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.

In 2005, Evans voted for the DC smoking ban that took away the rights of business owners, employees, and patrons to determine tobacco policies by voluntary exchange.

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