North Richland Hills students petition for tougher rules on smoking

Posted Monday, Jun. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Local high school students are calling for a stricter smoking ordinance, saying that North Richland Hills’ regulations are too lenient and put people’s health at risk.

Rebecca Cooper, 17, says the ordinance needs to go further and ban smoking altogether in restaurants and within 100 feet of where nonsmokers are likely to gather. She said she has family members who became ill from smoking and secondhand smoke.

“I just want to make it safer for people who don’t choose to smoke,” said Cooper, who will be a senior this fall at Richland High School. “They would be a safe distance where they wouldn’t be harmed by people who do choose to smoke.”

The current ordinance, approved in 1987, bans smoking in several areas, including schools; city-owned buildings and parks, except in paved parking areas; theaters and movie theaters.

The ordinance, which allows businesses to designate smoking areas, also bans smoking in businesses that serve the public, such as department stores, drugstores and supermarkets.

Restaurants are required to provide well-ventillated areas for nonsmokers, but these areas need only be separated from smoking areas by a minimum of four feet of floor space, and that’s only “where feasible,” according to the ordinance.

City Manager Mark Hindman said he expects to have a recommendation on the smoking ordinance in August or September.

He said attitudes toward smoking have changed. City officials sometimes receive calls from residents who say they will not dine at a restaurant that allows smoking, Hindman said.

Petition presented

Cooper navigated the idea through the city’s Youth Advisory Committee — a group of high school students who participate in community service projects and advise city officials about issues concerning North Richland Hills’ youths.

Dane McKittrick, who graduated this spring from Richland High School, presented the City Council with the petition May 20 signed by 76 people.

During his presentation, he cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that indicate that secondhand smoke causes an estimated 46,000 premature deaths nationally from heart disease each year and an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths.

“These numbers speak for themselves, and it is time for the city to act,” McKittrick told the council.

He noted that Southlake is among several Texas cities that have strict smoking bans.

Southlake bans smoking in public buildings, bars and restaurants. The ordinance, approved in 2007, allows for fines of up to $500 each day for individual violators and up to $2,000 for associations.

Southlake spokeswoman Pilar Schank said Southlake officials have discussed but not conducted a study on the ban’s impact. She referred questions about the impact on restaurants and bars to those businesses.

Reaction to idea

Managers and owners of some North Richland Hills bars and restaurants had varied opinions about a smoking ordinance.

Mike Nazri, owner of Niki’s Italian Bistro on Davis Boulevard, said he has a no-smoking policy on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. He allows smoking on the other days to avoid losing customers.

When he opens his new restaurant across the street this month, he plans to have smoking only on the patio. He said he would support a no-smoking ordinance because the city’s restaurants would all play by the same rules.

“If they make it no smoking, it’s better,” Nazri said. “Food is going to taste better.”

Antonio Chavez, owner of Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant & Bar on Bedford-Euless Road, said he allows smoking. The number of smokers he sees ranges from none to five of the 300 to 500 customers he has a day, he said. If the city bans smoking in restaurants, he will enforce it, he said.

“Personally, I’m for it,” Chavez said.

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