Council to appoint panel to study smoking issue

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Smoking inside or outside restaurants,such as Hooligan’s on the Square, could go by the wayside if the Denton City Council passes a smoking ban ordinance.

Smokers may have fewer places to light up in Denton next year, depending on an ad hoc committee’s work over the next few months.

The City Council is expected Tuesday to appoint residents to an advisory committee to take up the matter. The city staff has offered a time frame to develop an ordinance that could be put in front of the council by the end of 2012, according to city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker.

The city has heard from many residents since the City Council first discussed the matter in a work session in January. Several residents asked the council last year to pass a smoke-free workplace ordinance for Denton. 

“We’re still getting e-mails,” Baker said.

Public smoking bans aren’t new. California implemented a statewide ban for most public places in the mid-1990s. Most states have passed a statewide ban in recent years.

State Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Corinth, introduced legislation for a statewide smoking ban in 2011, but the matter failed. It was the third time a comprehensive smoking ban had been introduced at the state level.

Many believed the legislation had the votes, but a minority in the Texas Senate used a rule to keep the legislation off the floor.

Some business owners are concerned that they will lose customers if smoking is banned in their establishments, but others argue — as Crownover has — that waiters, bartenders and other workers are exposed to secondhand smoke, and that costs Texas taxpayers in additional Medicaid expenses.

The Texas Department of State Health Services promotes the adoption of comprehensive smoking bans. More than 30 Texas cities have enacted smoking bans for enclosed workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Many North Texas cities — including Dallas, Flower Mound, Frisco, McKinney, Plano, Richardson, Rowlett and Southlake — have adopted such bans in the last five years.

In his personal view, Chuck Fremaux, board chairman of the Denton Chamber of Commerce and a longtime Denton businessman, believes the choice of whether to allow smoking belongs to a business owner, “so if I lose customers, that’s my problem,” Fremaux said.

However, he understands why many restaurant owners want the ban. They can have the smoke-free environment with less risk to the business.

After Dallas passed its smoking ban, some customers drove to Addison’s bars and restaurants, Fremaux said, hence the rationale for a statewide ban.

“Everyone is on an equal footing, then,” Fremaux said.

During its work session in January, the Denton City Council learned that Houston and El Paso had both studied the impact of the smoking bans there and found little evidence it affected sales in bars and restaurants. Dallas’ loss was deemed statistically insignificant.

As a result, the council showed little interest in January in pursuing an economic study of impacts a smoking ban might have on Denton. Instead, the council told the staff they wanted to put together a committee that represented a variety of community interests.

The city staff has prepared a proposal that would include a 15-member committee with representatives from the medical and public health community, all three chambers of commerce and residents. But the council could go in a different direction if it preferred, Baker said.

The ad hoc committee is likely to be charged with helping the council define public places and workplaces and recommending any exceptions that might be included in the ordinance.

In addition to forming the ad hoc committee, the council will hold public hearings during its regular meeting Tuesday for four zoning changes and one specific-use permit for a home-based hair salon.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be preceded by a council work session scheduled for 3 p.m.

For more information on the agenda, go to www.cityofdenton.com.

 

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com.

 


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