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Lance Armstrong

Armstrong gives up the fight against USADA

Wow.

Lance Armstrong

With stunning swiftness, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday night it will strip Lance Armstrong of his unprecedented seven Tour de France titles after he dropped his fight against drug charges that threatened his legacy as one of the greatest cyclists of all time.

Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, said Armstrong would also be hit with a lifetime ban on Friday. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, he could lose other awards, event titles and cash earnings while the International Olympic Committee might look at the bronze medal he won in the 2000 Games.

Armstrong, who retired last year, effectively dropped his fight by declining to enter USADA’s arbitration process — his last option — because he said he was weary of fighting accusations that have dogged him for years. He has consistently pointed to the hundreds of drug tests he passed as proof of his innocence while piling up Tour titles from 1999 to 2005.

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” Armstrong said. He called the USADA investigation an “unconstitutional witch hunt.”

“I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999,” he said. “The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense.”

USADA reacted quickly and treated Armstrong’s decision as an admission of guilt, hanging the label of drug cheat on an athlete who was a hero to thousands for overcoming life-threatening testicular cancer and for his foundation’s support for cancer research.

“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”

Tygart said the agency had the power to strip the Tour titles, though Armstrong disputed that.

You can read Armstrong’s statement here, and his lawyer’s letter to the USADA here. The funny thing about this is that if USADA does strip Armstrong of his titles, there may be no one else who can be awarded them.

The Tour has taken away titles from two riders: Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2010. Each tested positive for a banned substance while riding to his Tour victory.

Landis, a former teammate of Armstrong, iniataed USADA’s investigation of Armstrong.

If Armstrong’s titles are taken away it is unclear who would be declared the winner. Most of the cyclists behind Armstrong on the podium were suspended for using drugs including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Alexander Vinokourov.

Here’s a radical idea: Why even bother testing? If they’re all doping anyway, then no one is really getting an advantage, and they playing field is sufficiently level. Well, it would have been level for everyone except Armstrong himself, who has passed every drug test given to him, and he managed to win anyway. I don’t really follow cycling, and I never paid that much attention to the Tour de France, even when Armstrong was dominating it. I have at best a surface-level knowledge of the history here. From that perspective, I have no idea why the USADA has been going after Armstrong so hard. I don’t get it. Be that as it may, it looks like the USADA will finally get what it’s been after for all these years. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Statewide smoking ban still stuck

It’s stuck in the Senate, which is a bit odd.

The woman standing in the way of a Senate vote is Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who joined [Lance] Armstrong on the Capitol steps in February in a pledge to support it.

Nelson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has not allowed a vote on the bill [SB544], frustrating supporters who considered her advocacy a major boost in getting the bill passed into law.

“I have asked over and over again,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, the Houston Democrat sponsoring the measure. Ellis said Wednesday that Republican Gov. Rick Perry said he’d allow the bill to become law if it gets to his desk.

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said she was unaware of any conversation the governor had with Ellis, but said Perry would review the smoking ban bill if and when it reaches his desk.

Nelson said she still supports the bill and that there’s time to address it before the session ends June 1.

“Everybody wants to panic,” Nelson said. “Things may shake loose very soon.”
Asked why she hasn’t allowed a vote, Nelson said she and Ellis had “an agreement” but wouldn’t elaborate.

Interestingly, the companion bill HB5 got voted out of State Affairs even though at last report committee chair Rep. Burt Solomons had said he didn’t support it and hadn’t asked committee members about it. Well, a watered-down version that exempts bars and limits it to the 26 counties that have over 115,000 people. (Which is an interesting number to pick. According to the Census, six counties had between 100,000 and 115,000 people in 2000: Ellis, Grayson, Gregg, Potter, Randall, and Tom Green. Midland checked in at 116,000. There may be some debate as to just where this law would apply.) Kudos to him for bringing it up anyway. I don’t know what Sen. Nelson’s master plan is, but the clock is ticking. Thanks to Elise for the tip.

Statewide smoking ban update

Earlier in this session, I thought the odds of a statewide smoking ban getting passed were pretty good. As of this point, however, it appears to be a dicier proposition.

The chairman of the House committee considering a proposed statewide workplace smoking ban said [Wednesday] that it’s unclear whether the measure has a future this session.

“It’s at a stalemate right now,” state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, said in an interview. “It’s an important issue to a lot of people, and a lot of people think it goes too far.”

The measure would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Supporters — which include the American Cancer Society, Texas Medical Association and the Lance Armstrong Foundation — say that it’s a key way to cut down on harmful secondhand smoke. Critics say it’s an affront to the rights of property owners and businesses.

The Senate version of the proposal — by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston — was considered in a public hearing yesterday before the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, which did not immediately vote on the measure.

On the House side, Solomons said he’s promised the bill’s author, Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, that the measure will get a hearing. But he said he’s not sure whether it will make it out of committee.

Crownover’s bill is HB5, Ellis’ is SB544. Both are pending in committee. Crownover has a diverse array of coauthors on her bill – anything that can attract the support of Leo Berman and Lon Burnam, Warren Chisum and Jessica Farrar can safely be said to have broad bipartisan support. That still may not be enough, of course.

Which isn’t to say there’s been no progress on the anti-smoking front. The Senate this week passed a bill that would raise the legal age for buying smokes from 18 to 19. I basically feel the same way about this as I do about the drinking age – if we define adulthood as beginning on your 18th birthday, then that should be universal – but on the other hand, the potential health benefit that could be gained by this, which would include some nontrivial cost savings for the state, is quite large. Doesn’t change the philosophical objection, but it is a different matter from a pragmatic perspective.

Ellis and Crownover on the smoking ban

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and State Rep. Myra Crownover have an op-ed arguing in favor of the statewide smoking ban legislation they’re sponsoring. I don’t know how persuasive their case may be to anyone who isn’t already in favor of it – I get the impression this is more a matter of faith these days than anything else – but there you have it in case you were curious. What I’m curious about is how much actual effect this legislation will have. Maybe it’s just my urban elitism speaking, but it strikes me that with the extension of Houston’s ban, I can’t remember the last time I encountered a lit cigarette inside a public building. Maybe if I visited a bar in unincorporated Harris County I would, but as far as my normal habits go, it’s just not an issue for me.

So help me out here: Where, if at all, do you encounter smokers? I’m only talking about places that would be affected by this proposal, which includes bars, restaurants and all indoor public places across Texas, including offices, convention centers and bus stations. It would also ban smoking in the bleachers of outdoor sporting or music events, and anywhere within 15 feet of a doorway to a public building. Putting it that way, the latter is probably where I’m most likely to run into smokers, though not at my own office building – they’re restricted to a rooftop area near the cafeteria, which I can easily avoid. What about you? Leave a comment and let me know.

One thing from the op-ed:

As Lance Armstrong recently stated, in 10 years we will look back at this debate and wonder, “What were we debating, and why did it take Texas so long?”

I have to say I agree with this. When I came to Houston in 1988, smoke was everywhere – restaurants, hotel lobbies, office buildings (at my first job, my smoking coworkers lit up in the building’s atrium; the place had a permanent haze), you name it. Now, it’s all gone, and it’s totally normal this way. I fully expect that this will be one of those stories I’ll some day tell my kids about how things used to be that will make them roll their eyes in disbelief.

Another step forward for a statewide smoking ban

The statewide smoking ban proposals picked up the endorsement of the state restaurant association.

On Monday, the Texas Restaurant Association voted to support the measure – one they say would “level the playing field” for establishments across Texas.

“With 28 Texas cities and 24 states now smoke-free, it’s just a win-win for that industry,” said state Rep. Myra Crownover, the Denton Republican carrying the House bill to ban smoking in all the state’s public places.

“What people forget is that for every one person who wants to smoke at a restaurant or bar, there are six or seven people who don’t go to that establishment because they allow it.”

One group unconvinced? Civil libertarians – who say it’s inappropriate for the government to intrude on private property or take away personal freedoms.

They’re joined by the tobacco lobby, which has contributed more than $112,000 to the campaigns of Texas lawmakers in the last two years, according to Dallas Morning News research.

“A restaurant, a bar, is private property, and you the customer have the choice of whether you go in or you don’t,” said Patrick Dixon, chairman of the Texas Libertarian Party. If you’re a nonsmoker, “there are other places that will cater to you.”

All due respect here, but if you’ve got to go to the chair of the Texas Libertarian Party for an anti quote, the pro position is probably in pretty good shape.

The proposed state ban, which is being championed by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, would outlaw smoking in bars, restaurants and all indoor public places across Texas, including offices, convention centers and bus stations. It would also ban smoking in the bleachers of outdoor sporting or music events, and anywhere within 15 feet of a doorway to a public building.

A statewide smoking ban, which failed in the 2007 legislative session, would supersede less-stringent laws in Texas cities. Smoking would still be permitted in specially marked hotel rooms, private rooms at nursing homes and outdoor patios connected to restaurants or bars.

Depending on circumstances, the patio allowance is either a deal-maker or a deal-breaker for bar and restaurant owners. Some establishments say it’s the only way they’ll be able to retain their smoking customers.

I’ve noted Armstrong’s involvement before. I don’t really have an opinion on the patio allowance provision. It’s fine by me if there is one, but it won’t break my heart if there isn’t.

Gov. Rick Perry said that while he fully understands the health concerns of cigarette smoke, he likes the idea of local control and wants to find a way to walk the line that protects individual rights.

So there’s still the chance of a veto, or a back-alley bill-killing, if the Governor gets a wild hair about it. But overall, the odds of this happening look good.

Armstrong versus secondhand smoke

The Chron had an interview earlier this week with Lance Armstrong, in which they discussed his current focus on getting a statewide ban on smoking in public places passed.

Q: What made you want to join the Smoke-Free Texas initiative?

A: Smoke-Free Texas is a logical extension of what we’ve done with Proposition 15. Polls overwhelmingly show that the people of Texas want smoking banned from public places. The science on secondhand smoke is overwhelming. I don’t want to infringe on the rights of what people do on their own time, but you shouldn’t smoke in public places. You can’t risk others’ lives.

Q: There’s so much positive news about Americans beating cancer. Yet the news recently was that, worldwide, cancer is expected to overtake heart disease as the world’s top killer by 2010, which isn’t far away. They cite increased tobacco use in China and India. Any chance you will take your initiatives worldwide?

A: Cities all over the world — in Ireland, France, Germany — are banning public smoking. But you’re right, smoking is increasing in China and India. I suppose big tobacco has to take its marketing efforts somewhere.

Q: As you’ve worked on behalf of cancer research funding, you’ve gone into meetings with physicians, scientists and economists — yet you’re the guy everyone wants to hear from. Does that surprise you?

A: You mean that they want to talk to a guy from Plano on a bike? (laughs). People know I take this very seriously. I can talk about it at great length without being a physician or economist or scientist. I understand the disease and am comfortable talking with anyone.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Texans?

A: This is an important measure for this session. It ties in real well with the cancer initiative it created. The headline should be that Texas is leading the way. In Texas, with M.D. Anderson, UT, Baylor and all the other great hospitals, we’re suited to truly change lives.

I’ve noted Armstrong’s involvement in this effort before. Whether you agree with him or not, having Armstrong on board with this is going to be a big plus for the proponents of this legislation. Anyone who can get a proposal for three billion dollars in cancer research funds through the Lege and approved by the voters, all on their first try, is a force to be reckoned with.