Devastated after a bitter loss in 1997, [public health advocates had] been waiting for years for a charismatic champion with consensus-building skills. So when then-Councilman Ed Garza announced during his 2001 mayoral campaign that he'd like to revisit the issue, advocates began mobilizing and the Smoke Free San Antonio Coalition was born.
The coalition assured Garza it had the expertise and the medical research if he could provide the leadership. He took the issue on, boldly vowing this spring to seek a total ban on smoking in all public places.
But by last week's council vote on a new ordinance, the enthusiasm and energy surrounding the alliance long since had fizzled.
The mayor wasn't returning frantic phone calls from coalition leaders eager for details of a proposed council compromise. The group's chairwoman, Suzanne Lozano, turned up the rhetoric against her one-time champion.
"We are disappointed in the mayor's whole lack of leadership," she said, blasting Garza for wasting time on "a watered-down ordinance that goes entirely in the wrong direction."
The broken relationship stands as a visible sign of the divisive nature of the smoking ban battle, which isn't over yet. The council plans to revisit the issue this week because language was mistakenly omitted from the ordinance.
The day after the vote, Garza announced that the council had intended to approve an ordinance allowing smoking in designated dining sections enclosed by four solid walls. Instead, the council voted to isolate restaurant smoking within sections surrounded by three walls and a partial fourth wall.
Overall, the council opted against an all-out ban on smoking and instead voted to tweak the City Code regarding lighting up in public.
Smoking will be permitted in stand-alone bars, bingo parlors, pool halls and meeting rooms in restaurants, hotels and motels that are used for private functions.
It will be allowed in tobacco retail stores and bars, enclosed dining areas reserved for smokers and on restaurant patios.
To enter an area where smoking is permitted, those under 18 must be with a parent or guardian. Signs must be posted at establishments indicating whether smoking is allowed. If so, the health effects of secondhand smoke must be listed.
Neither of the main sides in the debate, the anti-smoking coalition nor the San Antonio Restaurant Association, is pleased over the changes. Compliance with the new ordinance will be costly and ineffective, they say.
Personally, I'm torn about this. Like most nonsmokers, I hate cigarette smoke and will do almost anything to avoid it. I love the fact that the Mucky Duck offers non-smoking shows. It's a beautiful thing to arrive home after two hours in a bar and not have to immediately strip naked, burn my clothes, and hose myself down so that I don't scare the dog and kill Tiffany's houseplants. The last time I attended an Asylum Street Spankers show at Rudz, which has no such offerings, the smoke got so thick at one point that the band, almost all of whom smokes, asked everyone to refrain from lighting up for awhile. I still cough just thinking about it.
On the other hand, I have a hard time telling a private establishment that it cannot allow a legal activity to take place within its walls. I can't help but think that ordinances like this are not just a net loser for most bars, they're a big loser for them. (Not that I've ever seen any evidence one way or the other - I suspect that once these laws get passed, everyone moves on and no one really tries to measure their impact. Feel free to correct me if I'm all wet about this.) I'm not forced to enter a smoky bar, and I'm not prevented from telling the bar's owner that I'd patronize his place more often if I didn't think it was significantly shortening my lifespan.
I suppose San Antonio will find out for itself if the effort was worth it. It's a tourist town, so what it loses in barflies it may make up in families, I don't know. I do know that Ed Garza has his work cut out for him if he wants to live this experience down and aim for higher office some day.Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 11, 2003 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack