February 01, 2007
Ellis to present statewide smoking ban measure today

Yesterday, the Chron reported about Sen. Rodney Ellis' announcement that he was filing legislation to ban smoking in public places throughout Texas, in a similar fashion as many municipal smoking bans. (We knew this was coming.) I was waiting for a followup story for after his announcement so I could have some details to blog about, but as far as I can tell there isn't one, so let's look at what we've got:

"A broad array of cities in Texas have stepped up and shown leadership on this issue," said Ellis, D-Houston. "In my judgment you have to make this a public awareness campaign. Members aren't champing at the bit to vote on this. They will feel as much pressure to vote on it from constituents as they will financial pressure from lobbyists and commercial establishments to vote against it."

Fourteen Texas cities are smoke-free, and 47 have passed some type of limit on public smoking, including Houston, where a smoking ban will be expanded to bars in September.

When Houston passed the tougher ordinance in October, Mayor Bill White said he hoped the county and state would consider bans. Before the vote on the tougher city ordinance, Houston restaurant and bar owners had complained that they might lose smokers' business to restaurants outside the city.

Sixteen states have comprehensive smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in all workplaces, restaurants and bars.

"We are one of those states that would be a tipping point," Ellis said. "If you fight this battle in Texas, it helps make the case elsewhere."

Sixty-six percent of Texans favor making the state's workplaces, restaurants and bars smoke-free, according to a survey conducted by pollster Mike Baselice earlier this month on behalf of "Smoke-Free Texas," which is advocating the legislation.

There isn't a House sponsor for this yet. Based on Ellis' statement that he's looking for someone to "help balance out the political dynamics", I'd say he's looking for a Republican to carry this in the House.

I do have some more info on this, courtesy of Sen. Ellis' office. I don't know why the press release says the level of support for the ban is 71% while the Chron story says 66%, but I'll try to find out.

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Smoke-Free Texas, a diverse health care coalition, today announced the filing of SB 368, legislation banning smoking in public places. The group also announced the results of a statewide poll showing an overwhelming majority of Texans support a statewide ban of smoking in public places.

Smoke-Free Texas members include the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Texas PTA. The coalition is advocating that Texas join 16 other states that have passed comprehensive, smoke-free laws by passing SB 368.

A statewide poll commissioned by the coalition found that 71 percent of Texans would favor a statewide law eliminating smoking in all indoor workplaces and public facilities including public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars, according to Mike Baselice, president of Baselice and Associates, which conducted the poll. The statewide poll mirrors Texans' choice at the ballot box - 14 cities have passed comprehensive smoking bans and 47 others have passed more limited anti-smoking measures.

"Texans have spoken loud and clear: they want to ban smoking in public places and the best and most efficient way to do so is to pass this legislation," said Senator Ellis. "It is time for Texas take a giant leap forward for Texans' health and ban smoking in public places."

Senate Bill 368 will eliminate smoking in indoor public places, including municipal worksites and private worksites including restaurants, restaurant bars and stand-alone bars.

Secondhand smoke is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, low birth weight, chronic lung ailments (such as bronchitis and asthma) and other health problems, and it leads to the death of 53,000 Americans each year studies have found. Of Texans polled by Smoke-Free Texas, 92 percent said they realized that secondhand smoke is a health hazard.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 37 percent of adult nonsmokers inhale secondhand smoke at home or work. Levels of secondhand smoke in bars are 3.9 to 6.1 times higher than in office worksites and up to 4.5 times higher than in homes with at least one smoker, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ellis predicted widespread support of the measure, and called on critics to join the fight by supporting this common-sense reform.

"It is interesting how some people will applaud efforts to put more funding in cancer research yet oppose a simple common sense legislative effort to keep more people from getting cancer," said Ellis. "This common-sense reform will have an enormous impact combating a disease that is responsible for a fourth of all Texas deaths. I call on all sides to join in the debate and work together to help reduce smoking in Texas."

Interesting reference to the legislative anti-cancer crusade there. I wouldn't have thought of that, but it's a sensible fulcrum to use for this effort. We'll see how it goes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 01, 2007 to That's our Lege

I hear the next bill Ellis is going to introduce would prohibit fat people from living within 1,000 feet of a Dairy Queen or a McDonalds.

Posted by: Dennis on February 1, 2007 8:54 AM

I truly believe that Senator Elllis means well, but this bill is govenrnmental overreach. It seems to me that it would make better sense to allow the business owners of bars, restaurants, etc to make the decision to be smoke free on their own, instead of being told what to do...Yes, smoking is bad for us, and so is drinking, fast food, not taking our vitamins everyday, etc etc etc.
As fewer and fewer Americans are smoking, the market will decide that fewer and fewer places will exist for Smokers. Speaking of Smokers, I have never been one (except for that one day trying to be cool with my friends when I was 15), but every one should have a place they can relax and hang out in!!

Posted by: Roberto Reyes on February 1, 2007 10:07 AM

As an asthmatic who lived 18 years with smoking parents, I strongly support the bill. I understand that businessowners may want smoking to be allowed, but this will make the atmosphere inside the business healthier for patrons, as well as workers. Unlike most habits, smoking is unhealthy for those surrounding the person doing it, and the toxins linger in the air for people who walk into it as well. As a child who choked on smoke clouds in restaurants (even in the non-smoking sections because come-on, smoke travels), I was forced to endure it because it was allowed. But now, as an adult who understands the risks and side effects on unsuspecting bystanders, I have already signed the petition in support of a bill that will protect other children who have no choice of which restaurant or business that they enter.

Posted by: Shanna West on February 13, 2007 10:53 AM