At its meeting Feb. 25, the Weatherford City Council approved an ordinance banning smoking in Weatherford businesses where the sale or consumption of food takes place, approving the ban by a narrow 3-2 vote.
Residents filled City Hall, some giving their opinion for or against the ordinance, which also bans separate smoking rooms in restaurants – despite proper ventilation, and e-cigarettes, which have increased in popularity in recent years.
“I think the large majority of people in Weatherford don’t want to go to a restaurant and eat where cigarettes are smoked,” council member Jeff Robinson said.
At the Jan. 14 meeting, the council first approved the ban, again by a small margin with a 3-2 vote. Since that time, City Manager Jerry Blaisdell provided a draft of the ordinance, which the council approved but with the removal of one of the exceptions originally allowed – a separate smoking room.
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Council member Heidi Wilder at first proposed that the wording of that exception be changed so it was clearer - avoiding loopholes - but the council then decided to do away with that exception since even with the ventilation, the smoke could still permeate a restaurant.
Robinson pointed out that restaurant owners likely would not suffer from the ban, which Police Chief Mike Manning confirmed could be enforced successfully as long as compliance and not writing tickets would be the goal, since an officer might not arrive in time to catch someone disobeying the ban.
Several residents took the meeting as an opportunity to speak their opinion on the new ordinance, but most of those who spoke in opposition did so because the ban includes e-cigarettes.
Lifetime Weatherford resident Allen Warren said he smoked cigarettes for 30 years, but because of e-cigarettes he was finally able to stop after his other attempts failed. He proposed that the council table the ordinance and adjust it so e-cigarettes could still be used since they have helped people who could not break the addiction otherwise.
“I’m actually in favor of banning cigarettes in restaurants,” Warren said. “But I can’t for the life of me understand why you would ban e-cigarettes.”
Charles Bitters and his wife own a shop in Weatherford where e-cigarettes are sold and said their goal is to help others wanting to improve their health by quitting smoking, pointing out that the e-cigarettes’ ingredients are not dangerous.
“There’s so much difference between e-cigarettes and smoking tobacco products,” Bitters said. “There’s lots of misinformation out there on e-cigarettes.”
While the e-cigarettes have some tobacco, they are closely regulated by the FDA, Bitters said.
At the Jan. 14, meeting, Stephanie Davenport, a program director of Tarrant County Challenge, Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes awareness of the consequences of substance abuse, suggested that the council include the ban of e-cigarettes since some people use it as a cover when they are in fact smoking dangerous or illegal substances.
“I understand there hasn’t been a lot of evidence on e-cigarettes,” Wilder said.
Wilder also said it would add more responsibility on the owners if they had to determine whether someone was smoking an e-cigarette or a regular cigarette. Until more evidence is gathered, e-cigarettes will remain banned according to the new ordinance.
Representatives from the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association suggested the city consider banning smoking in any work place. A representative from the Texas Health Care Hospitals, Azle, offered resources and assistance to those with smoke-free businesses.