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City eyes smoking ban compromise

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Denton to revisit ban in light of input from residents, officials

The Denton City Council is expected to revisit a compromise that would expand the city’s smoking ban to include e-cigarettes and similar devices, yet grandfather in a handful of bars that still allow smoking under an exception granted in 2012.

Council members pulled back from a vote on the compromise during their regular meeting this week after District 1 council member Kevin Roden included a proposal in his motion that the “grandfathered” bars be prohibited from having live music if they allow smoking.

The council heard about three hours of passionate public testimony Tuesday night before deliberating for an hour. The motion to table came after 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Bar owners who still allow smoking — about 11 of 37 bars in the city, according to the owner of Dusty’s and Hailey’s, Jennifer Gibbs — told the council they feared losing their businesses if the current ban was expanded to include them.

Bartenders, musicians and others who work in bars asked the council to expand the ban so that they could have a smoke-free workplace.

Several medical and other health professionals also argued in favor of the ban, saying that the known risks from smoking posed too great a public risk.

Representatives from vapor shops argued they should not be included in the ban, but no one disagreed that Denton should ban the sale of e-cigarettes and similar devices to minors.

After Mayor Chris Watts said he would support a compromise for bars that currently allow smoking to be grandfathered in, Roden proposed a series of amendments to a proposed expansion of the ban.

Denton originally banned smoking in public places, including workplaces, in late 2012, giving restaurants until early 2013 to comply. But bar owners and the North Texas Fair and Rodeo, which operates a bingo parlor on the fairgrounds, pushed for an exception for their businesses, which the council granted.

The 2012 ordinance did not address e-cigarettes or similar devices, which were not as popular then as they are now.

Since 2013, many bars in the city have become non-smoking. Gibbs, who owns two of the remaining smoking bars, said the only bars that haven’t gone non-smoking are those that are unable to add patios.

Even with a more comprehensive smoking ban, smoking would still be permitted on bar patios.

Charlie Nolet, who owns two other bars in Denton, said he would never be able to add a patio to The Loophole, which is in a historic building on the Square.

Instead, smokers will have to step outside onto the sidewalk, Nolet said. He reminded the council that his bar is next door to Beth Marie’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream and Soda Fountain.

The council generally agreed to consider most of the amendments that Roden proposed in the compromise. E-cigarettes would still be included in the ban.

He proposed a more general definition for a patio so that more bars would be able to comply.

He also proposed that bars where smoking is allowed be required to post a sign to that effect. In order to be grandfathered in, the bars would have to register with the city as being one of those allowing smoking on the day the ordinance is passed.

No new bar could open in Denton and allow smoking. An existing bar couldn’t transfer the grandfathering privilege. Smoking in bars would eventually be phased out in Denton.

The bingo parlor would still be required to install ventilated areas that would keep smokers separate from non-smokers, but could be granted another year to do so.

But, when Roden proposed that bars that permit smoking be prohibited from having live music performances, many in the council chambers gasped in surprise.

To stop council consideration of that amendment, District 2 council member John Ryan moved to table the matter.

Council member Joey Hawkins, who represents District 4, said he couldn’t support restricting the bar owners to what amounted to an either-or choice.

The council agreed to revisit the ordinance in a work session after it was re-drafted to reflect the majority of amendments Roden proposed in the compromise.

Ryan also said he expected the live music restriction to be discussed more fully at that time.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 or via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.