Smoking in bars in Fort Worth may soon come to an end as city leaders plan to take another look at adding it to the list of public places where smoking is banned.
The push comes from Mayor Betsy Price, who said she’s been feeling the pressure from advocates of a smoke-free ordinance.
“I truly think the timing is good now for us, as part of our healthy city initiative, to look at our ordinance. Heck, even Billy Bob’s moved in the direction of a smoke-free environment,” Price said, referring to the popular Stockyard’s bar and entertainment venue. It started banning smoking at the request of its customers in April 2016.
On Tuesday afternoon, the city’s attorneys will brief the City Council on the current ordinance, on some possible language changes, as well as what other cities are doing.
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While it’s not clear what the proposed changes might be, it’s likely going to cover banning smoking in bars and possibly bingo parlors, and leaving retail tobacco stores, cigar bars and hookah lounges, as exempt.
Currently, Fort Worth’s ordinance bans smoking in most public places, but it is allowed in bars that have at least 70 percent of annual gross sales from alcoholic beverages. Smoking is also allowed in hotel/motel rooms, private clubs and outdoor dining areas.
Glen Keely, owner of Poag’s Mahones Irish Pub and Thompson’s, said he’s surprised Fort Worth hasn’t already gone smoke-free in bars, following in the footsteps of other cities such as New Orleans, New York and Chicago. He said he thinks it’s a good idea.
Keely said Thompson’s opened as a smoke-free bar in 2015 and Poag’s was made smoke-free just a year ago. Poag’s took a financial hit for about six months because happy hour patrons went to other places where they could smoke, he said. Business, though, picked up in evenings with a younger crowd, which tends to be non-smokers, Keely said.
“We made a decision on our own to do it,” Keely said. “Our employees are much happier.”
During the briefing, staff and city attorneys should get some direction from the council as to how they’d like to see the ordinance rewritten, if at all. It would then take a couple of months to get a new ordinance in place.
The council would have to vote on a new ordinance at an evening meeting. That’s when the public would be allowed to address the council on the topic. In the meantime, residents can also reach out to their council representatives.
The City Council received a briefing from city staff regarding the ordinance a year ago. Then-Councilman Sal Espino urged his colleagues to move forward on a smoke-free ordinance, saying public sentiment and opinion had changed since the city’s ordinance took effect in 2008, particularly with regard to the effects of secondhand smoke.
The council didn’t formally talk about the issue after that, but there has been work behind the scenes, primarily from Smoke-Free Fort Worth, a coalition of more than 2,000 residents and organizations such as the American Lung Association in Texas, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.
Kay Kamm, with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Acton Network in North Texas, said the group has had conversations with council members and city staff, sharing information about the health and economic benefits of having a smoke-free ordinance.
Fort Worth is the only major city in Texas that does not have an ordinance protecting citizens from the exposure to secondhand smoke in all workplaces, says Smoke-Free Fort Worth.
The chamber, on a blog post, said it will throw its support behind a stricter non-smoking ordinance. A member survey showed that about 85 percent of respondents said they’d support a smoke-free ordinance, the organization said.
“Health and wellness are important to employers,” said Chamber spokeswoman Andra Bennett House. “Fort Worth is the only large city in Texas without such an indoor smoking ordinance.”
Aschelle Morgan, community policy manager with the American Heart Association in Fort Worth, said Smoke-Free Fort Worth is “most encouraged by the support from everyday citizens” for a smoke-free ordinance.