In front of another overflow crowd of partisans, the Arlington City Council on Tuesday tabled a vote to extend the city’s smoking ban to include nightclubs, bowling centers, pool halls, sexually oriented businesses and other workplaces currently allowing smoking under an exemption.
The measure also would also bring e-cigarettes under the city’s regulatory authority for the first time, treating electronic smoking devices the same as tobacco products.
The council voted 9-0 to take up the issue again at its May 9 meeting, three days after the City Council elections. Mayor Jeff Williams said there was no political motivation, just concern about hearing all sides.
“We have been taking our time and being very deliberate and studying the issue fully,” Williams said. “We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to share.”
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And the council did.
The vote was loudly cheered by most of the more than 100 people who filled the chairs and lined the walls in the council meeting chambers.
Opponents of the ordinance outnumbered supporters, 83-34, according to the city secretary’s count of speakers and nonspeakers. Proponents went first, including several healthcare professional who warned of the dangers of secondhand smoke.
“I just see firsthand every day the impact that secondhand smoke has on citizens, on family members,” said nurse practitioner Holly Heid. “I just feel that everybody should have a safe place to go to work.”
Roger “Rocky” Walton, who served on the City Council in 1991 when the city extended smoking restrictions to restaurants, said that 75 percent of voters in a nonbinding referendum at the time favored banning smoking in all public places. But opposition heavily funded by a major cigarette maker, he said, discouraged the council from being very aggressive.
“We just decided to take it a step at a time,” Walton said.
Opponents disputed claims that studies show that smoking bans have little or no impact on bars, restaurants and other businesses. Councilman Charlie Parker challenged one ban supporter, asking how a bar can be surveyed if goes out of business.
Shonna Reiter, owner of an Arlington bar called Round Abouts, said she’s convinced the ban would be harmful.
“I feel that taking smoking away would collapse my business,” Reiter said. “This ordinance violates freedom of choice and, utmost, business owner rights.”
Robert A Blancato was among those who urged the council to put the issue to a public vote, which Parker said he supported.
“I’ve never been a smoker,” Blancato said, “but I don’t think it’s right for the nine of y’all to decide about businesses that support Arlington.”
At the first reading April 11, the council voted 6-3 in favor of the smoking ban after excluding bingo parlors — an exception that prompted three council members who are staunch supporters of the smoking ban to vote against it.
But the move appeased a large contingent of bingo backers in the audience. And it didn’t jeopardize one of the motivations for the added regulations — qualifying Arlington as a 100% Smoke-Free City, under criteria set by the World Health Organization to protect people from secondhand smoke in workplaces and other public areas.
The criteria allow for exempting bingo parlors, because the state classifies and regulates them as gaming establishments, and the organizations that raise money through bingo are required to give it all to charity
On Friday, a dozen business owners staged a protest on the City Hall steps on Friday and then turned over to the city secretary a stack of petitions with more than 1,500 signatures — collected in just five days, they said — demanding the council reject the smoking ban.
An supporter at Tuesday’s meeting announced that 1,600 signatures had been collected on petitions backing the proposed smoking ban.
The ban would also extend a provision that forbids smoking within 50 feet of a building’s working doors and windows. That drew fire from some opponents who said it would render useless the outdoor smoking patios that some clubs have spent thousands of dollars on to comply with existing smoking regulations.
Parker said he was pleased the vote was postponed, saying the council was showing concern “for the folks who are business owners and have their money at stake. I think it was not to rush to judgment.”
Supporters of the ban didn’t share the opponents enthusiasm for the postponement.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised at their action,” said Donna Darovich, president of MPAC, a women’s political action committee fighting for the smoking ban. “I trust they will be conscientious …. In the meantime, the health of those who work in places where smoking is allowed are still at great risk.”
Should the ban be approved ultimately, Arlington would join 70 other cities that have the smoke-free designation, including about 20 North Texas cities.
None of the cities that border Arlington — Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Mansfield, Kennedale, Pantego and Dalworthington Gardens — have yet approved the comprehensive smoking regulations required for the designation.
And that’s the rub for many smoke-friendly businesses in Arlington, who believe their smokers will simply take their cigarettes and money and light up in a pub or pool hall in the next town.
The city’s first smoking ban on many public areas was adopted in 1985 and added smoking restrictions for restaurants in 1991.
The smoke-free designation allows certain other exemptions from smoking regulations, and those are incorporated into the city ordinance, which exempts fraternal organizations, private club areas of Globe Life Park, retail cigarette and e-cigarette shops and cigar bars, and outdoor areas at least 50 feet from a building’s working doors and windows and from swimming pools, playgrounds and other amenities of city parks.