State Sen. Rodney Ellis , D-Houston , and state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, said they plan to file a bill in the legislative session beginning Jan. 13 that would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Though opponents say a ban would violate personal liberties and hurt their livelihoods, 24 states have passed a similar measure.
“You shouldn’t have to choose between your job and your health,” Crownover said.
Crownover and Ellis filed the same proposal in 2007; a watered-down version passed the House, and the Senate proposal stalled in committee. Since then, Dallas and Corpus Christi have strengthened smoke-free laws, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation has made a statewide ban its top priority in Texas.
Dallas joined cities including Austin, El Paso and Houston in passing bans that advocates for smoke-free workplaces consider comprehensive. Dallas’ expanded policy — which bans smoking in bars and other indoor workplaces but exempts outdoor patios and some existing tobacco shops — will go into effect April 10; Corpus Christi has a ban starting April 15.
With some major Texas cities becoming smoke-free, the time is right for a statewide measure, Ellis said. “All of those doomsday prophets have been proven wrong. There has not been a mass exodus of clubs and bars to the suburbs,” he said.
Though Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, has supported a statewide smoking ban — in an unusual move, he testified in favor of the proposal during the 2007 Senate committee hearing — Ellis said trying to pass his proposal will be an uphill battle.
One thing that could help him is that since the 2007 legislative session, a powerful ally — the Lance Armstrong Foundation — joined Smoke-Free Texas, a coalition that includes the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.
Armstrong and his Austin-based foundation were instrumental in getting support for a $3 billion cancer research measure that Texas voters approved in 2007. And in 2008, the cyclist and cancer survivor supported the ban in Dallas by sending letters to City Council members and writing a newspaper column, said foundation President Doug Ulman.
Having Lance Armstrong on board certainly couldn’t hurt. I think the experience of the big cities that have passed their own bans will be more persuasive, but you can’t have too many things working in your favor with the Lege. I won’t predict success, because it’s always easier to stop a bill than to pass one, but I’d say Ellis and Crownover’s odds are better than they were in 2007.