In the end, the vote wasn’t close.
The City Council voted today to extend Houston’s indoor smoking ban to bars but to continue allowing smoking in outdoor patios and in bars that promote cigar smoking and derive significant revenue from tobacco sales.
The 13-2 vote was a victory for Mayor Bill White, who wanted to extend the ban while leaving some locations available for public smoking. The only dissenters were council members Addie Wiseman and Michael Berry, who had said previously that they opposed any extension of the ban and that the decision on whether to allow smoking should be up to individual businesses.
The council rejected several amendments that would have weakened the ordinance or extended its reach. The only amendment approved expands the ban to include meetings of nonprofit organizations at their own facilities. Such functions would have been exempt from the ban under White’s original proposal.
The new rules take effect next September.
Given how contentious this all seemed a week ago, that’s a pretty big win for Council Member Carol Alvarado and Mayor White. Whatever they did to build consensus on this, it worked.
The council had appeared divided on the issue since White proposed his ordinance two weeks ago, but united behind it after a week of lobbying and testimony from interests on both sides, notably anti-smoking activists and bar owners who feared a ban would hurt their businesses.
I got several pieces of mail about the new ordinance this week, all from different groups, and all in favor of expanding the ban. If the anti-ban folks had a lobbying effortm going, they didn’t see fit to stuff my mailbox. Anybody else get mail on this?
Houston’s decision could affect how state lawmakers approach the issue, said Joe Cherner, an expert on the smoking-ban movement and founder of BREATHE – Bar and Restaurant Employees Advocating Together for a Healthy Environment.
“If Houston passes a strong law, Texas will pass a law within a year,” he predicted, based on how other states have reacted to bans by their largest cities.
Council Member Jarvis Johnson mentioned a statewide ban when he spoke to me about this last week. I’ll be interested to see if any member of the Lege champions this next year.