Advocates Criticize Houston's Smoking Ban Proposal for Exempting Bars [02/16-4]
Excerpts from: Partial smoking ban seen as lacking
By RON NISSIMOV and ROSANNA RUIZ Houston Chronicle [02/16/05]
Mayor Bill White's proposal to ban smoking in restaurants but not bars wouldn't
do enough to protect patrons and employees from secondhand smoke, speakers told
a City Council committee on Tuesday.
Under White's plan, indoor dining areas would be smoke-free, but restaurants with indoor bars or outside dining areas could continue to permit smoking in those areas. Bars would have to be separated in some way from general dining areas and would have to meet ventilation requirements.
About 20 speakers called for a full ban Tuesday during a hearing of the council's Neighborhoods, Housing and Redevelopment Committee.
"Not only does the mayor's proposal fail to provide safe, clean air in all public places, it doesn't even provide truly safe, clean air in the one establishment — restaurants — that it does cover," said anti-smoking advocate Lorraine Wulfe. "So why even bother?" She is the wife of prominent developer Ed Wulfe.
Other speakers included physicians and representatives from the Houston Communities for Safe Indoor Air, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
Under Houston's existing ordinance, restaurants and other public buildings are allowed to have smoking areas if they are properly ventilated. Smoking is banned within 25 feet of entrances to public buildings. Violators can face fines up to $500.
In addition to banning smoking in restaurant dining areas, White's proposed changes would prohibit smoking in covered bus shelters and would allow taxi companies to designate vehicles as smoking or nonsmoking.
White announced the outlines of his proposal in October, shortly after Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs said that she had been meeting with anti-smoking groups to craft a more comprehensive smoking ban.
The City Council is expected to take up the mayor's proposal Feb. 23. White defended his proposal Tuesday, saying, "We have to balance public health issues and personal freedoms."
Sekula-Gibbs said she is grateful White is proposing stronger smoking restrictions, even though she would prefer a full smoking ban.
Sekula-Gibbs said she would like White to better define what constitutes a separate bar area in a restaurant. City Attorney Arturo Michel said it would have to include some type of physical barrier but that the barrier would not have to be a full, floor-to-ceiling wall.
The Greater Houston Restaurant Association issued a statement saying it supports White's proposal but would fight further restrictions.
Restaurateur Lance Fegen, an operating partner of Trevisio restaurant in the Texas Medical Center and owner of Zula downtown, supports White's plan and said it is part of a trend. Smoking bans in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and El Paso are tougher than the one proposed by White, extending bans to bars as well as restaurants.
"I don't think anyone will miss it. It's in their benefit not to smoke anyway," Nafaa said.
Chris Alan, lighting a cigarette after his meal at the Market Square Bar & Grill downtown, said he opposes a smoking ban, although he tries to be mindful of nonsmokers when he dines out.
"I'm always with people who don't smoke anyway," he said.
The restaurant's owner, Kent Marshall, said that if the ordinance passes, he will ban smoking in his bar area rather than modify it to meet the ventilation requirements. "It would not bother me — we don't get that many smokers here," Marshall said.
White said he would like to strengthen Houston's ordinance every two years but said he wasn't sure how long it would take to achieve a full indoor smoking ban under an incremental approach.
Sekula-Gibbs said she expects a vote on White's proposal will be delayed until March 1, and she was noncommittal about whether she will try to amend it. She said she expects most of her council colleagues to support White's proposal.
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