March 09, 2005
Compromise on smoking ban enacted

Mayor White's compromise has carried the day in the smoking wars.

Houston City Council voted today to ban smoking in restaurant dining areas but not bars, accepting Mayor Bill White's compromise between anti-smoking forces and economic interests.

The Council rejected a proposal to ban smoking throughout restaurants but permit it in free-standing bars. The ordinance approved allows smoking in restaurant bars.

The council did not consider any measure for an across-the-board ban on indoor smoking in all public places, although that had earlier been proposed by two council members .

10 council members voted for the mayor's ordinance, three voted against it and two were absent.

Council members Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and Gordon Quan had offered amendments to ban smoking in virtually all public indoor spaces, but withdrew that today in favor of the measure to ban smoking in restaurants and bars in restaurants, but not free-standing bars. That proposal was rejected 10-3.

The city's existing ordinance allows all businesses to establish indoor smoking areas, as long as they are clearly marked and properly ventilated.

I can't off the top of my head think of any public places other than bars and restaurants that I've been lately where there's a smoking section. Some hotel lobbies, maybe. Even Houston's bridge clubs - and let me tell you, there's no group of people with as high a percentage of smokers in it than tournament bridge players - banned smoking some years ago, partly (I presume) out of pressure from the national organization, which began enforcing a no-smoking policy at tournaments at least a decade back.

I'm OK with this. I personally would be happy with a totally smoke-free world, but I don't care to legislate that. As long as I can reasonably escape the foul stuff, that's probably good enough. I'm glad to see Mayor White's compromise get passed. I just hope he gets more out of the experience than Ed Garza did.

On a side note, prior to the Council's action, Anne said:

I bet if you put it to a vote of the citizenry, a smoking ban would be tough to pass.

Well, let's see. After a little looking around, I find that last year, the people of Laramie WY, Lincoln NE, Columbus OH, Fargo ND, and West Fargo ND all approved some kind of ban, while Duluth MN rejected a ban and Toledo OH relaxed a ban that had been approved the year before. So, based on that, I'd take that bet. I count at least three cities - Appleton WI, Austin TX, and Amarillo TX - that will be voting on bans in the next month or two, so we'll get some more evidence then. Frankly, from what I've seen so far, smokers and smoking ban opponents should be happy that this looks to be the end of it in Houston.

(Note: this was an invaluable guide to finding these articles.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 09, 2005 to Local politics | TrackBack

Well, I think the advocates would have to work harder to convince Houston citizens than they had to City Council, certainly. And I don't think this is the end of the road for a complete smoking ban. In a Chronicle article back in October, Sekula Gibbs noted that a partial ban has been the precursor to a full ban in other cities. So, I imagine the full ban will rear its head again.

Posted by: Anne on March 9, 2005 1:37 PM

Most Hawai'i counties have banned interior smoking, and now there's a move to ban it on beaches. If I want to smoke while attending a UH baseball game I have to leave the stadium (returning via hand-stamp) entirely. None of this "concourse OK" crap for us. It annoys me that I have to go entirely out of the structure when it's an outdoor stadium, but I'm outnumbered.

Posted by: Linkmeister on March 9, 2005 2:55 PM

A ban on smoking in all indoor public places, including pubs and bars, is set to come into effect in Scotland in 2006. If I recall correctly, during the public consultation there was a large majority in favor of some kind of ban. Some people still seem to be bitching about the decision to ban smoking in pubs, but personally I'm just sad it won't come into effect until after I get back!

Posted by: Alexis on March 9, 2005 4:18 PM