A proposed ban on smoking in all bars, restaurants and work sites across Texas is igniting a big-money fight at the state Capitol.
Anti-smoking forces are lining up against the tobacco industry and some restaurant owners, with lobbyists from both sides seeking to win over lawmakers.
“We’ve got a lot of national resources that are focusing on this,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who proposed the legislation. “Texas is a trendsetter state on so many issues.”
Sixteen U.S. states, including California and New York, already have comprehensive smoking bans; 13 others are considering them. Houston, Austin, El Paso and other Texas cities already have comprehensive smoking bans.
Ellis’ proposal is aimed at eliminating secondhand smoke in indoor public places. It would ban smoking in government offices, private workplaces, restaurants, bars and the seating area of outdoor entertainment events. It also would prohibit smoking within 15 feet of the entrances to those places. The bill proposes a fine of up to $500 for violating the ban.
The bill, which was filed Jan. 30, must survive legislative committees before facing a vote from lawmakers during the legislative session, which ends May 28.
Smoke-Free Texas, a coalition of the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and Texas PTA, is pushing the measure.
The American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society High Plains Division, which sponsored the poll, have 11 lobbyists for the legislative session, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Leading opposition to the ban is tobacco giant Philip Morris USA Inc. Spokesman David Sutton said the company advocates helping people avoid secondhand smoke in public places, but wants business owners to have flexibility in accommodating them.
There are ways to protect nonsmokers short of a complete ban, he said, such as separate rooms for smokers and high-quality ventilation.
“Total bans on indoor smoking fail to respect the comfort and choices of both smoking and nonsmoking adults,” he said.
The Texas Restaurant Association also figures to be a major player in the debate.
“Increasingly we see that cities are adopting bans,” said executive director Richie Jackson. “We have some concerns. One is, we want a level playing field – if you’re going to ban smoking in restaurant bars that you don’t allow smoking in bars. That’s an ongoing equity issue with us.”
Joining a throng of health officials to promote the legislation were Dallas restaurant owner and executive chef Kent Rathbun and Austin-based blues musician Marcia Ball.
Ball, a former smoker, said while smokers can make their own choices about whether to light up, waiters, entertainers and non-smoking patrons do not have a choice about breathing secondhand smoke if it is in the air. Customers will not stop going to bars and restaurants if they cannot smoke inside, she said.
“They, we, can adapt,” she said.
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