Stricter Smoking Rules Considered For Houston

It's been a year since the city's stricter smoking ordinance took affect and now city leaders are considering expanding the rules to include all workplaces, even bars and pool halls. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, bar owners say a ban on smoking could mean a whole lot less business.

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It comes down to dollars and common sense for Nancy McCoy, who owns a cigar shop downtown and would have to drastically change her business if city council agrees to expand the smoke-free ordinance. Her store would fall under rules that would prohibit smoking in workplaces, even cigar bars and shops.

"People come into the cigar shop for cigars. The alleged evil they're trying to address is they're trying to prevent people from being involuntarily subjected to smoke. Nobody in a cigar shop or a cigar bar is involuntarily subjected to smoke. They come in for the fellowship there, to talk to the people in the cigar shop because that's their freedom. They're free to do that. That's their right in this country."

The enhanced no-smoking proposal has the support of the Houston Restaurant Association and the Greater Houston Partnership and a recent poll found that about 70-percent of Houstonians support such a plan. But Phillip, who's an attorney for Fast Eddie's Billiards, says the idea of smoke-free pool halls and bars is puzzling.

"Our establishment is typically not minors. You don't typically have anybody under the age of 18 coming into a pool hall or a bar. So what we'd like to see is to take into consideration an adult choice and some people choose to go into a bar that has smoking and if you don't want to go into a bar that has smoking, then try somewhere else."

Cities like Austin and El Paso have strict smoke-free rules and California and 17 other states are completely smoke free in public places. Dallas has an ordinance similar to Houston's that allows smoking in restaurant bars and stand-alone bars. Dan McGoldrick is with Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and says smoke free rules don't hurt businesses.

"All of the data and published studies from around the world and around the country show that we can protect public health without harm to the hospitality industry. We've seen in in New York, we've seen it in California. We've seen in in El Paso, Texas. In cities and states all over the country where you look at real data before and after these laws are implemented, there's a little bit of noise when you first implement the law, but they go smoothly. The public loves them, so you can protect public health without worrying about economic harm."

A Surgeon General's report earlier this year confirmed that second-hand smoke drastically increases the risk of heart attack and lung cancer in non-smokers. Joel Dunnington is an associate professor of radiology at MD Anderson Cancer Center and says the rules would protect both workers at bars and customers there.

"Everybody expects to have a safe work place, all workers. This is divided up into two groups, one is the workers in these places who are exposed to it 8 or 10 hours a day and the patrons who are exposed to it an hour or two or three hours a day. But both groups groups need to be in a safe, smoke free environment."

City council is expected to consider the new smoking restrictions next month.

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