Texas lawmaker takes aim at smoking with statewide ban

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News

khou.com

Posted on January 3, 2013 at 10:00 PM

AUSTIN -- From airplanes to the movies and even cartoons, smokers once could light up just about anywhere.

A growing awareness of the harmful effects of cigarettes and second-hand smoke over the latter half of the 20th Century has led more recently to increasing calls to ban smoking from public places.

Filed by State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), SB 86 would ban smoking in all indoor and outdoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants statewide.

It would add Texas to the list of 28 states with similar bans already in effect.

The bill includes a grandfather clause which would exempt specialized tobacco bars opened prior to 2013.

A 2011 poll suggested 70 percent of Texans would support a statewide ban and Ellis hopes to get the legislature's support in the upcoming session.

"Scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke," Ellis said. "If you're exposed to it, you will die earlier."

Ellis views the issue as a public safety concern, citing $96 billion annually in health care costs attributed to smoking-related diseases. He said the issue of particular concern is when it comes to employees in environments where smoking is allowed, comparing second-hand smoke to asbestos in the workplace.

"If someone permits smoking inside a restaurant, that clearly in my judgment violates the rights of those people who have to have a job," said Ellis. "You don't choose where you work, it's based on if you can get a job there."

In 2005, Austin became the first major Texas city to ban smoking in bars in restaurants. Houston, Dallas and San Antonio now comprise the more than 40 cities in Texas with similar bans.

"Normally I want to take a shower before I go to bed because I smell like smoke," bar patron Denise Higdon told KVUE in September 2005, shortly after the Austin ban passed. "This morning I got up and my clothes didn't smell like smoke."

"It'll pass in Austin, Texas. It won't pass in a conservative state like Texas," said Bob Woody, president of the East 6th Street Community Association and owner of several Austin bars.

Woody said the Austin ban resulted in a roughly 40 percent decrease in revenue for his properties. Although business has largely recovered since, Woody said it's still down 15 percent from what it was before the ban.

"There have been no positive effects," Woody said.

At Players billiards in Pflugerville, the Austin ban doesn't apply. Smokers are welcome, but a new law isn't.

"I don't think that anyone should tell any bar owner how to run their establishment," said bartender and manager Terri Moebus.

"It's a bar. People come, they drink, they smoke. If you don't want to be in that situation, don't show up," said Patron Dave Koehn. "I think you ought to have a choice. There ought to be a sign on the front door, 'This is a smoking establishment, you've been warned.'"

Richard Smith, a non-smoker, said the smoke from others doesn't bother him.

"If it did, I'd go to the bar across the street because there's no smoking over there," said Smith. "Most smokers, if the smoke is going your way and they know you don't smoke, they'll move their cigarette out of the way. They have respect for non-smokers."

CLICK HERE FOR FULL TEXT OF SB 86

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