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Two smoking stories

Rep. Myra Crownover will make her biennial attempt to pass a statewide smoking ban in Texas, which if it passes would make it harder to smoke.

Although she believes in limited government, Crownover said 53,000 people die each year in the U.S. from second-hand smoke, and that is unacceptable.

“I think this is the most important public health issue before the Legislature at this time,” she said. Banning indoor smoking, she said, would benefit both customers and employees.

The bill would also create a level playing field for business across the state with a uniform statewide policy instead of the hodgepodge of city regulations that exist now, said Crownover. And people who choose to smoke would still be able to do so outside, she said.

Dr. Joel Dunnington, speaking for the American Cancer Society, told the House Public Health Committee the smoking ban would save $440 million to the state’s economy biennually because most bar and restaurant employees don’t have health insurance. When those employees get sick, they end up going to public hospitals, where often the cost is passed on to taxpayers.

The Legislative Budget Board estimates the savings would be a bit more modest: $31 million over the next biennium.

Meanwhile, in its attempt to find loose change under every budgetary couch cushion, the Lege will also make it harder to quit smoking.

Finding ways to cut health care costs is all the rage under the Pink Dome — and curbing smoking is a proven way to do it. But both the House and Senate budget proposals slash tobacco cessation programs by more than 80 percent, or $20 million over the biennium.

Health care advocates say such cuts would devastate programs that deter children from smoking and eliminate regional efforts that have curbed tobacco use among adults. And they argue that the money, which comes from a multibillion-dollar lawsuit settled with big tobacco companies in the late 1990s, is supposed to be used for anti-smoking education.

“If you ask what the biggest health threats are to the state, tobacco is in the top three, but we’re not putting money where our mouth is,” said Troy Alexander, associate director of advocacy for the Texas Medical Association, one of several groups gathering at the Capitol this morning to oppose cuts to tobacco control and obesity reduction efforts. “If you look at how we’re taxing tobacco, we’re not hesitating to benefit from the use of tobacco, but we aren’t doing much to reduce consumption.”

Well, when cost cutting becomes an end rather than a means to an end, one should expect some contradictory policies. I don’t know what else to say.

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