March 15, 2007
Statewide smoking ban update

The statewide effort to ban smoking in restaurants, which began in the Senate, has now come to the House.

A House committee public hearing on a statewide smoking ban was a virtual replay of arguments made on the local level as cities throughout the state have considered making restaurants and bars smoke-free.

"This is not about whether Texans should smoke, that is an individual decision. We are working to protect employees in the state of Texas," said Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, who is sponsoring the bill. "It has been debated, cussed and discussed. But it's a worldwide movement that is catching on."

While the Texas Restaurant Association supports the ban, several small business and pro-business groups are opposing it.

Smoking bans are a reckless expansion of government and set a dangerous precedent, according to Peggy Venable, director of Americans for Prosperity Texas, a group that supports lower taxes and less government.

The ban should be rejected, Venable said, because it violates business owners' property rights and denies consumers the right to choose.

"What's next? Banning chewing gum because it can cause tooth decay or outlawing chocolate because it can cause obesity?" she asked. "It's an overreach. Smoking may be unhealthy behavior, but it's legal."

Good Lord, that's a stupid argument to make. When you chew gum, or eat unhealthy food, that may be bad for you, but it has no effect on me. When you smoke, however, it has a negative effect on those around you, especially when you're in an enclosed space. In particular - and I speak from the experience of working at a restaurant some years back that was heavily frequented by smokers - it has a bad effect on the health of the people who work there. That's why this issue has traction - it's a workplace health and safety issue.

Putting it in more concrete terms:

When M.D. Anderson went smoke free in 1989, it was a "bold move, now it's just common sense," said Charles LeMaistre, former president of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The Texas Medical Center went smoke free last year.

"Spending one hour in a smoking restaurant is the equivalent of smoking a cigarette," he said, to illustrate the effects of secondhand smoke. "Spending two hours in a smoking bar is the equivalent of smoking four cigarettes."

Multiply that by 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, and you see the problem. All the gum-chewing in the world is irrelevant. If people like Peggy Venable are making that argument, they're trying to distract you from this fact.

This at least is on point:

The Amusement and Music Operators of Texas also argued that the ban would be devastating to small businesses. The organization represents more than 200 small businesses that rely on coin-operated equipment including pool tables and juke boxes.

"I know from personal experience that a smoking ban has consequences," said Jake Plaia, the group's board president. "Within months of the enactment of the Beaumont smoking ban, my revenue dropped by 30 percent."

These concerns have come up everywhere there's been a smoking ban enacted. It would be nice to do a more comprehensive study, and see how much of the cited declines in revenue have to do with smoking options that exist nearby, outside of the range of such municipal laws. That was the impetus for statewide action, after all. Are smokers going elsewhere, or are they staying home? We may choose to act regardless, but it'd be nice to have a firm grasp on that question beforehand.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 15, 2007 to That's our Lege

i smoke, and the city of arlington just passed a very restrictive smoking ban. basically, there's no smoking anywhere except bars that have less than 25% food sales.

personally, i'm ok w/banning smoking in enclosed spaces. i realise that secondhand smoke irritates the hell out of some people and can have health consequences. no problem there.

but as a smoker, i have basically stopped frequenting the establishments that i used to frequent which have gone non-smoking. i have a good friend who manages a restaraunt up in north arlington, and i know for a fact that revenue has dropped. hell, their smoking bar used to make more money for them than the restaraunt part.

so i think that other smokers may be like me. they'll just choose not to frequent the non-smoking joints and take their business elsewhere.

the bar i hang out at, fortunately, was able to get around the ban, and business is up for them because smokers are looking for a place to hang out and drink & smoke.

i would bet long term studies would show that smokers just stop going to the non-smoking places unless they have no choice (for example, in the case of non-smoking concert venues).

Posted by: anna on March 15, 2007 7:54 AM

I agree with Anna. I see your point about the chewing gum Charles, but why doesn't someone talk about the negative impacts of people drinking alcohol and getting back on the road. Me thinks the big money talks on this issue...

Posted by: becky on March 15, 2007 10:50 AM

Smoking bans hurts the small mom and pop neighborhood bars and pool halls. That scenario has played out over and over again across the country and it is playing out with the Austin smoking ban.

I was at that public hearing. That reporter didn't mention that there was testimony after testimony from small business owners in fear of losing their livelihood. Big Tobacco was not present as far as I could see.

Posted by: spyglass on March 15, 2007 11:31 AM

A study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that restaurant ventilation/filtration systems can make the air of a nonsmoking section of
a smoking restaurant as clean as the air of smoke-free restaurant.

Another Oak Ridge National Laboratory study of tavern workers in 16 major
cities found that the tobacco smoke exposure of bar and restaurant workers
to be minimal. No bartender was found to breathe more than the equivalent
of a single cigarette per 40 hour work week. The average bartender breathed .1 of a cigarette per 40 hour week.

Posted by: Bill Hannegan on March 15, 2007 12:08 PM

Thanks for the links Bill. I'll have to check them out.

As for economic impact, I recall that California restaurants did quite well after the smoking ban went in place. (Unfortunately, I don't have a link to an article stating this though.) I suspect that this was for two reasons. Many CA restaurants have outdoor patios, which allow people to smoke. Plus, the weather was always reasonable, so the outdoor patio was preferable anyway. The second reason is that it brought out non-smokers. From experience, I can say that my wife and I went to Fort Worth pretty much every weekend until she got pregnant. Just about the time our son was conceived, Dallas passed its ban, so we started going their every weekend instead. (Now that we have two kids and gas prices are so high, we pretty much stay in Arlington.) So, yes Dallas benefited from our business when their ban passed.

My thoughts, which are pretty worthless, on this are that there should be a cap-and-trade system or something like it on. Essentially, I would have the bars and restaurants that allow smoking to heavily subsidize those that ban it. Setting the cap appropriately would allow for non-smoking workers like kuff to be protected but provide safe havens for people like anna. My only other comment is that I think Democrats should avoid this issue like the plauge. I think it is really bad politics in Texas. Democrats should really be courting the smoking demographic, and this really hurts them.

Posted by: blank on March 16, 2007 9:32 AM

What about pollution? If you go outside for an hour it's like having two cigarettes, right, so stay inside.
People, there are a lot more serious issues that we should worry about like the homeless, the war in Iraq, political corruption, famine and saving our planet. Smoking should not be allowed in the workplace but in a bar or smoking area of a restaurant you should be able to have a cigarette if you want one. You people are destoying people's businesses
as I'm in the restaurant business and know that some of my clients may go out of business as their revenue's have dropped 20-30%.
My sales have dropped as well so it not only effects restaurants and bars but their suppliers as well.
Get a real cause to Champion as this is AMERICA.

Posted by: anthony on March 18, 2007 9:12 AM