Galveston goes smoke-free

Good for them.

The Galveston City Council adopted a comprehensive smoking ban Thursday, forbidding people from lighting up in bars, restaurants, private clubs and tobacco stores.

Council members Karen Mahoney, Elizabeth Beeton and Tarris Woods joined Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, who championed the ban, in voting for the ordinance. Council members Danny Weber and Susan Fennewald voted against it. Councilwoman Linda Colbert was absent.

The ban will take effect Jan. 1.

The adopted ordinance is more restrictive than the regulations the council previously discussed, a compromise that guaranteed its passage.

Mahoney, Beeton and Thomas agreed to approve the ban with an exception for tobacco stores, but Woods said he could only give his support if the measure was universally applied.

To make sure the ban passed, the other three agreed.

Several prominent restaurateurs and business groups who opposed a similar smoking ban proposed in 2006 said they would support it this time as long as it put all businesses on a level playing field. They lobbied against giving an exception to private clubs, saying it would provide a loophole for unfair competition from anyone who opted to run what was really a for-profit business as a members-only establishment.

That makes their ban stricter than Houston’s, and they accomplished it in one round. This is where I’d usually say something about the prospects for a statewide ban, but after this past session I’m giving up on that. If it ever happens, it happens. Thanks to Houstonist for the tip.

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7 Responses to Galveston goes smoke-free

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Smoking banned in Mansfield? Not really
    At many local bars, old habits die hard

    MANSFIELD — Altoids tins have become the ashtrays of choice at local watering holes.

    They’ve replaced all those old, cheap glass ashtrays that departed more than two years ago after Ohio voters passed a referendum to ban smoking in public places.

    While you no longer have to worry about getting lung cancer over breakfast at Denny’s, at most veterans clubs and plenty of bars in Richland County, the burn goes on as beery, smoky nights are pretty much the same beery, smoky nights they’ve always been.

    “Right after they passed this, I called the health commissioner and said, ‘What do I have to do to comply?’ ” said Joe Sinnett, owner of Joez Lounge.

    “And he said, ‘I have no idea.’ So I said, ‘Okay, you make damn sure you let me know what my obligations are on this law. I have got obligations in the liquor laws. I have got obligations with the food license. You let me know. But I’m not doing anything that goes against the Constitution of the United States.’ ”

    Sinnett’s bar, off U.S. 30 east of Mansfield, has received 23 complaints under the smoking law, the last shortly before Christmas 2008. He’s been fined at least five times but only paid $200 pending appeals. His last inspection by Sue Osborne, the Mansfield/Ontario/Richland County Health Department’s primary inspector, was earlier this month.

    “I don’t know what it was,” Sinnett, 60, said about the latest check, “But I’ve had it. I’ve absolutely had it. I ripped down all the signs.”

    He’s owned the place since 2004 and, like most area bar owners, doesn’t have a beef with the smoking ban itself. It’s the onus it puts on bar owners to self-police their establishments that troubles Sinnett and his peers.

    “I don’t want to be a cop,” said Paul Hauke, 61, a Sandusky-area bar owner who earned attention less than two months ago for smoking in the halls of the Erie County Health Department.

    For that stunt, Hauke became the first person in Ohio charged with violating the ban as an individual.

    “We’ve had no leadership at all from the state, county, anybody,” Hauke said. “We’ve been given no direction at all on how to handle anything. I didn’t go into business to police people. If they light up, they know the law.”

    Betty Frazier, co-owner of Finish Line Bar & Grill since 2006, says her patrons are like family, and it’s not her place to tell a customer to snub out a smoke.

    “We have no smoking signs. We don’t have ashtrays. This bar has been here since 1953. There’s no kids. It’s just friends and family,” Frazier, 45, said. “If you light up, I’m not going to kick you out.”

    Sinnett takes his anti-ban fervor to more spiritual levels. The licensed minister goes by “Reverend Joe” and calls his lounge a tabernacle.

    “If you get out a thesaurus and break down the meaning of worship, religion and ceremony,’ then I have the right, in worship, to allow people to use tobacco in observance of freedoms denied or people who’ve died and come back,” Sinnett said.

    He’s smoked multiple packs a day for more than four decades, mostly Marlboros, and has voluntarily seen a doctor three times — ever — mostly at the behest of a spouse.

    Sinnett, of course, isn’t the area’s only scofflaw. The now defunct Clover’s Bar & Grill, Belcher’s House of Rock, The Den and most veterans clubs are serial violators. But they slide because of weak enforcement and a resilient bar culture that says that for many bar-goers, stumbling home smelling of booze and smokes is part of the cost of admission.

    “Drinking and whiskey and cigarettes and everything has gone together for centuries,” Gary Craft Jr. said over beers at Finish Line.

    Craft, 37, doesn’t smoke.

    “I’ve owned two bars in this town and lost one because of the ban,” he said.

    Craft now owns Pappy’s, a garbage business. Like fellow bar patrons, he thinks the ban at best is a mixed message.

    “I think, golly, haven’t they made enough off cigarettes?” Craft said. “They’ve created a monster, and now they want it to stop.”

    The health department, of course, doesn’t agree. Though for environmental health director Matt Work, charged with ban enforcement, the requirements for busting bars and other businesses are such that, most of the time, his hands are tied.

    “The only way we can actually enforce this is through a complaint,” he said. “If I walk into a bar and see someone smoking, I have to call the complaint in to the state and hear back from them first. The rules are different than anything else we do.”

    Thirty-seven of Ohio’s 88 counties have shed the investigation units at their local health departments and referred enforcement to the state, which has two full-time investigators who follow complaints and scour Ohio’s bars and offices for ashtrays and cigarette butts. Richland County has kept its unit, but health commissioner Stan Saalman admitted to being tempted, like others, to nix it.

    “I certainly have those thoughts, especially with the economy turning the way it has. It may be a program that we may consider cutting,” Saalman said. “But I think it’s a very important program for the health of our community.”

    The county says it had collected $7,346 in revenues — collected fines and state assistance for enforcement offered when the law was newly enacted — by mid-March on 306 cases. The program has cost some $43,800 in wages. Each case brings in an average of $143 to pursue and brings back an average fine of $23.

    “Smoking is not a moneymaker for us,” said Work, who added the department believes in its basic purpose.

    Recently, Work met with a reporter at the now closed Clover’s Bar & Grill to observe a typical smoking ban inspection. Before inspector Sue Osborne came in, seven or eight twenty-somethings sat around the bar drinking steadily. A slow night, but still early, one or two patrons smoked casually, using mint tins as ash receptacles. The bartender periodically emptied their contents.

    Osborne went about her work with little ado. And before most patrons knew it, ashtrays had been removed, whispered warnings heeded and Osborne was gone. The place slowly emptied.

    For those in the fight with long memories, the pivotal moment in the smoking ban came not when Ohio voters, at 58 percent, passed the ban in November 2006, but in the months afterward before the state began enforcing it.

    “I would remind everyone that the ballot language people voted for specifically exempted private clubs and family-owned businesses,” said state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati.

    The actual ballot language didn’t say as much, but what many ban opponents now say is they never thought some of their favorite haunts would be affected.

    “A lot of my friends voted for the ban because they thought it exempted places like (Finish Line),” Craft said.

    The American Cancer Society’s Ohio chapter, which was the primary funding force behind the original referendum, disputes the claim. The organization released a survey in May 2008 showing not only did 97 percent of Ohioans know what they were voting for, 63 percent said the ban should remain.

    That doesn’t satisfy bar patrons. Mike Weiss, a 43-year-old fabricator and 25-year smoker, said that a restaurant smoking ban and local tavern prohibitions were substantively different.

    “If you can’t wait until after you finish eating to have a cigarette,” the Mansfield resident said, “then ease up.”

    Seitz argues along many of the same lines. In the spring of 2007, as the Ohio Department of Health had public hearings to refine the smoking ban after its passage, the department became stingy with exceptions. Truckers who drive alone won back their right to puff, but private clubs, despite a late court injunction, never did.

    Seitz, along with state Sen. Gary Cates, R-Hamilton, and Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Geauga County, co-sponsored Senate Bill 120, which would exempt private clubs who have paid employees and family-owned businesses. Still, he recognizes an uphill battle. The bill’s original co-sponsor and fiercest supporter, Sen. Robert Schuler, a Hamilton County Republican, died June 19 after a long battle with an undisclosed form of cancer.

    “Obviously, my dear friend Senator Schuler has just been in the ground,” Seitz said on June 26. “The earliest (we do it) will be the fall, practically speaking.”

    Dick Allen, owner of Zeno’s, a Columbus bar the state health department says has been cited with five $2,500 smoking-ban fines — second most in Ohio — said legislative action was absolutely necessary.

    “We’re hoping that it will pass,” Allen said. “We’re mounting a program with them to fight it on a constitutional level.”

    On a recent Thursday at Finish Line, a group of men sat on the patio, in the sunshine, enjoying smokes and beers. Empty, crumpled cans of Busch Light and Bud Light crowded the bar. A band set up. Twenty or so customers sat around circular tables. Frazier, the co-owner, told a visitor about the six different benefit shows she’s hosted for bar regulars and friends. The next, Aug. 1, is for her brother, recently diagnosed with cancer.

    Soon, shots of Dr. Mc- Gillicuddy’s Cherry Bomb were poured into hard plastic cups, each with a splash of Squirt. The jukebox blared country music. Partiers grabbed their 4-ounce shots, clinked and cheered.

    “To beer and cigarettes!” one celebrant toasted.

    As they drank, Frazier recalled what she liked about the place, whose only staff is her two daughters, her husband and herself.

    “At 9 o’clock, you’ll be lucky if you have a sitting place,” she said. “This is family.”

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    I dont think your smoking ban will work out to well. People that smoke and venues that make their living from smokers will not abide it…………….simply put prohibition in any form is a total failure ALWAYS…….REPEAL is just the end outcome of these bans.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    I support choise not prohibition

  4. Pete says:

    Why do I see the same cut and paste posts from this harleyrider individual all over the web? You can tell when he doesn’t cut and paste from the spelling mistakes and gramatical errors that he makes.

  5. harleyrider1978 says:

    poor pete,is that the best ya got dude………….I fully intend to be all over the world fighting smoking bans………you antis made a mortal enemy out of me.Not strictly the bans but because of the socialism that it comes from. I will not rest til your politically defeated and the bans are REPEALED. These bans came in like a tsunami following the win of the democrats back in 2006……..followed by a nearly total despression worldwide in the economy……….coincidental I think not,look who was in charge of banking oversight barney frank and chriss dodd.

  6. Bob says:

    I too, am posting everywhere. I’m posting this quote for areas that want to vote for a ban, warning them how the ACS changed the ban AFTER it was voted on in Ohio. If it worked once, you can be sure they’ll do it again.
    “Judge blocks smoking-ban exemption for private clubs

    Monday,  April 30, 2007 11:39 PM
    By Kevin Mayhood and James Nash

    The Columbus Dispatch

    For at least the next two weeks, the statewide ban on smoking in public will be enforced in private clubs, a Franklin County judge ruled today.

    “This won’t be the end of it; both sides of the fence are passionate about it,” said Robert Funk, adjutant/quartermaster of the Ohio chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

    The smoking ban had been altered after some VFW leaders complained that veterans shouldn’t be prohibited from smoking in their private clubs. The state Health Department drafted an exemption that would allow smoking in private clubs if the employees also are members.

    Under that exemption, 1,500 Ohio private clubs, including veterans halls, motorcycle clubs, civic clubs and athletic clubs, could be excluded from the smoking ban if they make their employees members, said Jacob Evans, of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, which is seeking to overturn the exemption.

    “When the Department of Health received the rules, they went ahead and took that private-club exemption language and expanded it,” Evans said. “That was not at all what was presented to voters. Private businesses — clubs and taverns — should be treated the same as private clubs in regard to the smoking law.”

    Bars and restaurants are concerned that private clubs would cut into their business if they can have smoking, Evans said.

    Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain issued a temporary restraining order today that prohibits local health departments from allowing the exemption. Further arguments will be heard May 14. Cain expects to decide whether to allow the exemption within days of the hearing.

    Minus the exemption, enforcement will begin, as scheduled, on Thursday, said Kristopher Weiss, spokesman for the state Health Department.

    The Smoke Free Ohio amendment, which was passed by 58 percent of Ohioans who voted in November, said that private clubs would be exempt, so voters thought clubs such as the VFW could allow smoking, Weiss said. But, he said, the fine print of the amendment defined a private club so narrowly that virtually none would be exempt.

    Under that definition, a club must have only members and no employees, be nonprofit and be housed in a stand-alone building, he said.

    The state Health Department will argue to keep the exemption it drafted.

    The American Cancer Society’s Ohio chapter, which spearheaded the Smoke Free Ohio campaign, has argued that the exemption doesn’t protect the health of employees in private clubs.

    “The good news is the ban will be enforced as written,” said Wendy Simpkins, a spokeswoman for the organization.

    Like Funk, Simpkins expects more legal battles. The American Cancer Society also challenged the exemption in court. The Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders Association, which includes restaurant and bar owners, challenged the ban in a Cincinnati court. Organizations involved in the litigation think appeals will follow.

    The state Health Department exempted private clubs as part of a flurry of revisions to the smoking ban. Truckers who drive alone also were excluded from the ban, but no one is formally challenging that exemption.

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