Arlington council informally supports expanded smoking limits

ARLINGTON -- City Council members gave informal support Tuesday to a proposal that would stub out smoking in public parks, billiard halls, nightclubs and bowling alleys.

But they weren't quite as ready to decide whether Rangers Ballpark in Arlington should also be smoke-free.

Since May, a council committee has discussed ways to strengthen Arlington's anti-smoking ordinance, last revised in 2008.

The committee's recommendations, presented to the council Tuesday, would remove some exceptions but would not affect bars, bingo parlors, private clubs, private offices or tobacco shops.

The council could vote on the proposed regulations, which would also ban smoking at the city's last remaining strip club, as soon as next month.

"It's about promoting a healthier lifestyle as best we can without overregulation," said Councilwoman Sheri Capehart, who heads the committee.

Several major Texas cities, including Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, already ban indoor smoking in the workplace. Creating a smoke-free atmosphere at entertainment venues would boost Arlington's family-friendly image and help the city attract more tourist dollars, said Councilman Robert Rivera, who is leading efforts to toughen the smoking ordinance.

"This is about protecting the health and economic well-being of Arlington," he said.

Rivera is also pushing to ban smoking inside the city-owned Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"The ballpark is one of the cornerstones of our city," Rivera said. "It's a city of Arlington property and by definition it should be smoke-free."

Baseball fans are allowed to smoke in designated areas along the outer perimeter of the ground level, the upper concourse and the balcony areas outside the Cuervo Club, city officials said.

Banning smoking inside the ballpark could create a challenge for ticket holders, who would be forced to leave the property because Arlington's ordinance does not allow smoking within 50 feet of a building's entrance, City Manager Trey Yelverton told council members.

"At the ballpark, if you've left through the archway, you have left the property," Yelverton said. "To get 50 feet away, it really means you are going to have to go across the street."

The council did not decide Tuesday whether to include the ballpark in ordinance revisions being drafted by staffers.

"I'm real hesitant to say you can't smoke out there at all," Councilman Robert Shepard said. "The Rangers have the ability to say, 'This is a nonsmoking facility.' For us to say it, I'm really reluctant to do that."

Indoor smoking is already banned at the nearby city-owned Cowboys Stadium and at most other places in Arlington, with a few exceptions.

The exceptions include private clubs, bars, nightclubs, sexually oriented businesses, pool halls and bingo parlors that don't allow patrons or employees under 18.

"It would be better if nobody in Arlington smoked at all," said Mayor Robert Cluck, a physician. "It's a matter of what is reasonable."

Although Councilman Charlie Parker supported a smoking ban in public parks, nightclubs and sexually oriented businesses, he opposed a suggestion to ban smoking in private offices.

"If smoking brings you happiness, why can't you pursue it in your own domain?" Parker asked.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock