Opponents of new regulations that would ban smoking in bars, bowling centers, adult businesses and pool halls protested the measure on the steps of City Hall on Friday, then delivered a stack of petitions with more than 1,500 signatures to the city secretary’s office — after getting stuck in and rescued from an elevator.
A dozen owners and employees of nightclubs and a couple of restaurant bars joined in the quiet protest before a handful of media and well-wishers, ahead of the City Council’s final vote on Tuesday.
The City Council on April 11 tentatively approved the ordinance amendment, which also bans smoking within 50 feet of working doors and windows. Several bar owners complained that would render useless the patios on which some spent thousands of dollars to comply with current smoking restrictions.
The council split 6-3 on the first vote before more than 90 supporters and opponents of the proposal who overfilled the council chambers. Some council members who are advocates of stricter smoking policies voted against the amendment when the majority decided to exclude bingo parlors from regulations, a concession applauded by many opponents.
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But Friday’s protesters said it was unfair to exclude bingo parlors, saying those establishments are family-oriented and allow children amid smoking, drinking and gambling,
As this ordinance stands, our council is not at all concerned about Granny dying from smoking in the bingo hall because bingo halls generate revenue for local charities.
Faith Bussey, president, Citizens for a Better Arlington
“If the goal of this ordinance was truly the health and well being of all Arlington citizens, there would be no carve-out for the bingo halls,” said Faith Bussey, president of Citizens for a Better Arlington, which organized the protest. It was the lead political action committee that opposed public funding for the $1 billion, climate-controlled stadium for the Texas Rangers, which voters overwhelmingly approved in the Nov. 8 election.
“As this ordinance stands, our council is not at all concerned about Granny dying from smoking in the bingo hall because bingo halls generate revenue for local charities,” Bussey said. “This ban is extreme. At its core, it is a violation of these property owners’ rights.”
Organizations that use bingo for fund-raising counter that children are not allowed in bingo parlors.
“Bingo is considered gambling by the state; it’s controlled by the Texas Lottery Commission,” said David Bailey, secretary of the Pantego Lions Club, which raises about $100,000 a year at 303 Bingo on Pioneer Parkway for Arlington charities. “It’s 21 and over unless the Lottery Commission changes its mind.”
Several bar owners at the protest said the bingo parlors don’t have a lock on charitable giving.
“I feel like a lot of our bars give back,” said Tina McAuley, owner of Mother Red’s at 3007 E. Abram St. “We have a lot of benefits for different things. We collected clothes for the homeless shelter in Arlington. That’s just one example.”
Business owners said they collected the 1,500 signatures in just five days, saying that indicates the urgency felt by club employees and patrons. All of the protesters raised their hands when asked if they believed a smoking ban would put them out of business.
Several said they get a lot of business from former patrons of nightclubs in Dallas, one of several area cities with similar smoking regulations. Shonna Reiter, owner of Around Abouts nightclub in Arlington, said 40 to 50 percent of her customers are refugees from non-smoking cities.
“They travel from other cities to smoke here,” she said.
Jay Warren, a city spokesman and marketing director, said he was aware of the protest but had little to say about it.
“This is the democratic process at work,” he said, “and the council will vote on it on Tuesday.”
The petition demands the council vote against the amendment.
The planned, dramatic ascent to the third floor of City Hall to drop off the petition with the city secretary lost some momentum when several protesters apparently overloaded an elevator and became stuck. A maintenance crew called to the scene pried the doors open and put them on a different elevator.
The ordinance amendment, if approved, would place Arlington among about 70 Texas cities that have adopted comprehensive “smoke-free” ordinances — which don’t require a 100 percent, citywide ban. Bingo parlors, because they are regulated as gaming establishments and must give all proceeds to charity, can be excluded, along with a few others that include smoke shops and fraternal organizations.
The designation, 100% Smoke Free City, is based on criteria established by the World Health Organization and is focused especially on workplaces.
Also under the proposal, the city would for the first time regulate electronic cigarettes, treating them the same as their tobacco counterparts.
North Texas cities with the smoke-free designation include Dallas, Southlake, Benbrook, Flower Mound, Little Elm, Denton, Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Mesquite.
The cities that border Arlington — Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Mansfield, Kennedale, Pantego and Dalworthington Gardens — have not yet approved the necessary bans.
Also, 31 cities in the state have begun restricting e-cigarettes following the Food and Drug Administration's recent decision to regulate those devices.
Currently, the city restricts smoking in places including schools, libraries, museums, healthcare facilities, elevators, transit system buses, public restrooms, nursing homes, places of public assembly, service lines, retail and service establishments, theaters and auditoriums, as well as workplaces where smoking is banned by the owners.
The city smoking ordinance, first adopted in 1987, was amended in 1991 to restrict smoking at restaurants, a measure that most agree did not harm the industry like many feared at the time.
This story includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.