Looks like a compromise has been reached in the effort to ban smoking in restaurants.
Mayor Bill White announced Wednesday that he is drafting an ordinance that would ban smoking in restaurants, but not in bars.
"I have been listening to people who want a ban everywhere and the people who don't want to lose their market," White said. "I'm trying to find the middle ground."
White said his proposal would be phased in over two years to try to minimize any negative impact on restaurants.
Under Houston's current ordinance, restaurants and other public buildings are allowed to have smoking areas if they are properly ventilated. Smoking is banned within 25 feet of entrances to public buildings.
White said that under his proposal, any restaurants with bars in their establishments would be allowed to maintain smoking areas in the bars, as long as there is "real separation" from the dining areas.
The mayor said he didn't have details of his proposal because his legal department is looking into the matter. He said he hopes to have a proposed ordinance prepared in time for City Council to vote on it before the end of the year.
Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a physician who has been working with anti-smoking groups to push for a total ban on smoking in public buildings, said she appreciates White's proposal.
"I feel like it's a step in the right direction," Sekula-Gibbs said.
Juli Salvagio, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, said the organization supports White's proposal because it would not prevent smoking in bars or bar areas within restaurants. She said the organization expressed its concerns about a total ban to Sekula-Gibbs and a representative from the mayor's office during a Sept. 8 meeting convened by the councilwoman.
"It sounds like we were heard," Salvagio said.
Salvagio said the association would support a total ban in restaurants only if it is enacted statewide. She said the total ban in Dallas has hurt restaurants there because customers are flocking to surrounding communities that do not have bans.
Lance Fegen, owner of Trevisio restaurant in the Texas Medical Center and Zula restaurant downtown, said he supports White's proposal.
"I think that as we've gotten a little bit older we've gotten a bit wiser," Fegen said. "The perception that a smoking section in a restaurant doesn't offend anybody is really ridiculous."
Fegen said many upscale restaurants in Houston such as his already ban smoking from dining areas because "a majority of the people don't want smoking to be part of the experience, especially with expensive foods and wines."