Arlington looks at tightening city smoking restrictions

ARLINGTON -- After finishing lunch at J. Gilligan's bar Tuesday, Cheryl Witter enjoyed a cigarette at her table before heading back to work.

"I want a cigarette when I'm on break," said Witter, adding that she and her co-workers eat at the smoky downtown bar almost daily.

"I'm going to go to a place that accommodates my habit."

Someday, Witter may not be able to find an ashtray on the table at her favorite lunch place.

On Tuesday, an Arlington City Council committee began discussing banning indoor smoking at nearly all businesses, including bars, nightclubs and bingo parlors.

Councilman Robert Rivera is leading the attempt to make the city's smoking ordinance, last revised in 2008, even tougher.

"Everyone can agree smoking is unhealthy," Rivera said. "For families to be able to come to Arlington and breathe in a healthy environment is important because it reinforces our family-friendly image. This is about health, but this is also an economic issue."

Several major cities across Texas, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, already ban smoking at workplaces. In Arlington, indoor smoking is banned at most places with a few exceptions -- private clubs, bars, nightclubs, sexually oriented businesses, pool halls and bingo parlors that don't allow patrons or employees under 18.

Rivera wants the city to discuss banning smoking at both Cowboys Stadium and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, which are both city-owned facilities. He said he does not want to ban smoking at fraternal organizations or tobacco shops with private smoking clubs.

Witter said she opposes making Arlington bars smoke-free.

"People should have a choice. We all know it's bad. I know it's bad, but I choose to smoke," she said.

J. Gilligan's owner Randy Ford has watched the city's smoking policies become more restrictive during the 33 years the restaurant has operated downtown.

In the early 1990s, Ford said, he was required to create a separate smoking section in the main restaurant with an air exchange system designed to keep smoke away from customers. Then in 2006, the city eliminated smoking areas in restaurants, hotels, motels and other establishments. After that, Ford said, smoking was only allowed in J. Gilligan's draft house, which is separate from the restaurant.

Ford said that although he would personally prefer businesses to be smoke-free because of the risk of secondhand smoke exposure, customers should have the option to smoke at his bar.

Ford said he would also support a statewide ban on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars so that businesses were competing on a level playing field.

The council committee will continue discussions at future meetings. On Tuesday, council members requested information about health and economic effects reported by cities with smoking bans in place.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock