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New year, new rule: Denton goes smoke free

The end of 2017 brings the end of smoking in Denton bars.

When the Denton City Council updated the city’s smoking ban in April 2015, it gave bars extra time to comply. Some bars opened with outdoor patios for smokers; others added them. Some bars made the switch to nonsmoking early. The last six or so bars that continue to allow patrons to smoke indoors must become nonsmoking establishments on New Year’s Day.

Charlie Nolet, owner of The Loophole pub on the Square. DRC
Charlie Nolet, owner of The Loophole pub on the Square. 

Many customers at The Loophole Gastropub & Ale House are smokers, said owner Charlie Nolet. He remains hopeful nonsmoking customers will return in 2018 once they know the bar is smoke-free.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Nolet said. “We don’t have an option.”

The Loophole is inside a historic building on the Square. As a result, Nolet doesn’t have the option to add an outdoor patio for smokers. About 10 bars in Denton have outdoor patios to accommodate smokers. Nolet’s other bar, II Charlie’s on Sunset Street, has a patio on the second level. Next year, he expects The Loophole’s patrons will simply step outside to light up.

Dusty’s Bar & Grill is turning half of its space into an open-air patio, said Jennifer Gibbs, the bar’s owner. Almost all of her customers are smokers, and she said they plan to just hang out in the patio space come the new year. This raises concerns about what will happen to the main section of the bar, she said.

“My main concern is if I accommodate my downstairs patio area for my regulars, I don’t know who will go inside of Dusty’s,” she said. “I’m hoping for the many, many people who insisted we go nonsmoking will come in to eat and drink now so we can pay the bills.”

She was a vocal opponent of the ban in 2015, and still is against the move. The bar has seen an increase in sales in the past two years, and she’s not sure that pattern will continue once her customers can’t smoke inside.

“If you’re wondering if we’re excited about it, the answer is no. We’re still not happy that the government is going to police our business,” she said. “But we’re doing the best we can.”

How we got here

The City Council adopted the city’s first smoking ordinance in 2012. Many states have been adopting some version of a ban on smoking in public places and workplaces since California adopted one in 1995.

But Texas remains one of 14 states without a statewide ban, leaving the decision to local governments. Denton’s first smoking ban was considered a partial prohibition, since it applied to city buildings, restaurants and bowling alleys. The City Council made specific exceptions for bars, private clubs, bingo parlors and tobacco businesses, such as cigar bars, hookah lounges and tobacco shops.

After e-cigarettes and vaping became popular, the City Council revisited its smoking ban to prohibit the new devices as part of the ban. It also added bars and bingo parlors to the ban, saying those employees deserved the same protection as other employees protected by smoking bans. But some bar owners protested, saying the ban could be a problem for those bars that couldn’t add an outdoor patio to their buildings.

Patrons of East Side Denton can smoke in the bar's patio along Austin Street.  DRC
Patrons of East Side Denton can smoke in the bar's patio along Austin Street.  

Denton continues to allow restaurants and bars to permit smoking on outdoor patios if they so choose.

Only 20 percent of Texas cities with some kind of smoking ban extend their ban to bars, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Once Denton’s smoking ban goes into full effect, the city joins 49 other cities state health officials consider “smoke-free.”

State officials consider a city smoke-free when its ordinance prohibits smoking in city facilities, private workplaces, restaurants and bars (both those inside restaurants and not).

The 30-foot rule

When the City Council extended the ban in 2015, it gave Denton bars more than two-and-a-half years to come into compliance. At the time, bar owners believed about 11 of Denton's 37 bars still allowed smoking. 

That dwindled to about a half-dozen bars as of early November, according to a city staff report.  

“The health inspectors said most have come into compliance on their own,” said Brian Daskam, a spokesman for the city government.

The city’s health inspectors are in charge of enforcing the ban as part of their regular duties reviewing certain businesses. They inspect restaurants and bars twice a year and immediately following a complaint. Over the past five years, they haven’t issued any violations of the smoking ordinance, which can cost a business owner as much as $2,000 per violation per day.

A no smoking warning signGetty Images/iStockphoto
A no smoking warning sign
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The city police also respond to complaints of individuals violating the ban, which has happened just once, according to a recent report to the City Council. Officers will also tell people to stop smoking when they observe them in a no-smoking area. So far, people have put out their smoke and officers have not written anyone a ticket.

Individuals are subject to the same $2,000 fine for violating the ordinance, which includes the city’s 30-foot rule.

Denton’s smoking ban doesn’t apply to private homes and vehicles. No smoking is allowed within 30 feet of a street-front main entrance to a business.

Staff writer Jenna Duncan contributed to this report.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

FEATURED PHOTO: From left to right, Preston Walker, Kirk Ross and Charlie Nolet take a smoke break at The Loophole Gastropub & Ale House on Tuesday afternoon. The Loophole is one of the last remaining bars that allows smoking in Denton. Jeff Woo/DRC