No-smoking trend billows as more states contemplate ban
EL PASO, Texas (July 9) â€” Lawmakers in two large Texas cities took steps simultaneously late last month to outlaw smoking in restaurants and other public places as a statewide ban was being considered in Arkansas and a tiny Massachusetts town joined the
But in one small Rocky Mountain city, proponents of smoking fought back against the growing trend to snuff out cigarettes in enclosed places. That effort, however, took place only after voters in Montrose, Colo., approved yet another of the nation's hundreds of new laws that restrict tobacco use in public places.
Two of the newest laws affecting diners and restaurateurs were passed in Texas. The City Council in El Paso, the state's fourth-largest city, outlawed smoking in all enclosed public places, effective next Jan. 2. The council's 7-1 vote to make El Paso the state's first city with a total smoking ban came after nearly two hours of public debate by proponents and opposing restaurateurs. Fines in El Paso will range from $100 for first offenses to as high as $500 for subsequent violations.
The Reuters news service quoted El Paso Restaurant Association president Fred Jackson as saying the law would drive smokers across the Mexican border to eateries in neighboring Ciudad Juarez. Medical experts at the El Paso council session argued that secondhand smoke is the nation's leading preventable cause of death. "Do your public duty to protect public health," Dr. Jose Manuel De La Rosa, dean of the medical school at Texas Tech's El Paso campus, was quoted as telling the council. "Do it for the children."
On the same day the El Paso law was approved the Lubbock, Texas, City Council, on a 4-3 vote, passed a measure that would prohibit smoking in restaurants in three years unless separate buildings are provided just for smokers. Under the new law, most Lubbock restaurants this month will have to pay $200 for permits to have smoking sections.
Lubbock ordinances previously allowed for smoking areas within restaurants if they had separate ventilation systems. The Lubbock Restaurant Association fought the ordinance.
Meanwhile, in Little Rock, Ark., Larry Griffin, owner of Cotham's in the City, an eatery that is popular with politicians who work in the state Capitol a block away, came out in favor of a pending ban on restaurant smoking.
The Fort Smith, Ark., Times Record quoted Griffin as telling a news conference crowd that "if our food is going to be regulated so it won't make our customers sick, then the atmosphere should be regulated." Griffin made Cothman's available as a rallying place for advocates of the proposed Arkansas ban, which had been endorsed by the state Board of Health and was awaiting action in the Legislature.
At the press conference Dr. Gary Wheeler, a pediatrician at Arkansas Children's Hospital, said data show that respiratory symptoms decline sharply in restaurant workers after smoking bans are implemented. "This is an objectively measured phenomenon," Wheeler was quoted as saying.
Griffin, whose Little Rock restaurant has barred smoking since it opened two years ago, permits smoking in another Cotham's he owns in the town of Scott. Still, he predicted that many owners of small restaurants would welcome an across-the-board ban on smoking because they wouldn't have to compete with restaurants whose larger facilities might permit them to segregate smokers under existing legal exemptions.
The growth of no-smoking ordinances is provoking resistance in some locales. In Montrose, Colo., opponents of a smoking ban that recently was approved by voters have organized a petition drive to repeal the measure this fall.
Foes of the Montrose Clean Indoor Air Act said they hope residents will act to rescind the ordinance, which was passed by a 2,004-1,705 vote in April. Montrose voters had turned down smoking-prohibition measures twice before.
The new Montrose ordinance will prohibit smoking in any public place except for private clubs and taverns in the rural town of 13,500 people in western Colorado. The ban applies to all restaurants except for a separate, enclosed and specially ventilated area for smokers. Violations will draw fines of $300.
The organizers of the repeal movement, including Republicans and Democrats, need about 470 signatures to place the issue on the November ballot. The Montrose City Council was considering an amendment to the law that would allow judges the discretion to lower the $300 fine and to address public events at private clubs. But council members are barred from taking any action until the ordinance has been in effect for six months.
Despite the fight-back spirit of smoking proponents in Montrose, reports of yet another smoking ban in Massachusetts offered more evidence of the rising tide of such measures. Late last month the tiny town of Whately, Mass., became the latest of some 150 cities in that state to restrict public smoking. The Whately ban provided a microcosm of the divergent viewpoints surrounding the controversy, particularly since the town's landmark Fillin' Station diner on Interstate 91 attracts plenty of smokers from among its sizable clientele of long-haul truckers.
While several drivers quoted in an Associated Press report vowed to stop patronizing the Fillin' Station, other customers said they knew people who don't come to the popular eatery only because of its reputation for being smoky. Waitress Jacqueline LeDoyt, who posted her own no-smoking sign to alert Fillin' Station customers to the Whately ban, blamed cigarette smoke for her chronic headaches. "I've been here 20 years breathing in this stuff," she told the AP.
But LeDoyt's boss, Fillin' Station manager Fredric Brown, expressed the fears of many restaurateurs who confront the possibility of legal restraints on their clientele. "A lot of our customers come here because it's one of the last places in the area where you can smoke," he was quoted as saying. "If they stop coming, we're going to be losing money."