Dalton Gregory: City needs smoking ban

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It is past time for Denton to enact a comprehensive smoking ban. Because so many Texas cities already have comprehensive smoking bans, more than half of all Texans live in smoke-free cities.

Currently, Denton has the weakest smoking ordinance of cities in North Texas. We were tied with Lewisville until it passed new rules in October. 

The Denton City Council has received recommendations to update our smoking ordinance from an advisory committee of business owners, neighborhood representatives and health professionals. The council is now poised to act on the proposal. 

Thankfully, we have not been besieged with complaints that a smoking ban will hurt business at restaurants and bars. There is too much evidence to the contrary to make that a believable argument.

And, fortunately, we have not heard a lot of arguments that secondhand smoke is safe. The data is clear that secondhand smoke harms people. Secondhand smoke contributes to lung disease, cancer, asthma and the risk of heart attacks.

Some have raised concerns about liberty and freedom for folks who want to smoke.

A smoking ban does not force people to quit smoking. We are not proposing to make smoking illegal. But we are interested in limiting where people smoke so that others have the freedom and liberty to breathe clean air.

No one should be forced to smoke against their will, yet that is what happens to those who breathe secondhand smoke.

Some complain that smoking bans are an example of government overreach, meddling too much in how businesses do business. But we have a history of the government taking action to protect workers.

Just this November, 123 workers died in a Bangladesh garment factory because of unsafe working conditions. In the past 10 years, more than 700 garment factory workers have died in that country.

That does not happen in the U.S. because after the death of 146 workers in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, Americans said “Enough.” We passed laws to protect the health and safety of factory workers.

Yes, it added to the cost of production and to the cost of government for inspections. But Americans have taken a stand that we value people more than profit.

We can’t rely on the free market when it comes to health and safety issues. It is not right to tell workers to shop around and get another job where it is safer. No one should have to choose between their job and their health.

This is exactly why Denton’s state representative, Myra Crownover, proposed a statewide smoking ban for Texas in 2007, 2009 and 2011. But she has not been able to generate enough support in the Legislature and even if she does in 2013, there is no guarantee that the governor will sign it.

Our residents want a comprehensive smoking ban. Through the city’s Engage Denton website, 69 percent of those responding to the question are in favor of a smoking ban for Denton.

The advisory committee has made good recommendations to the council.

The committee proposal prohibits smoking in all businesses, schools, city buildings, restaurants, billiard and bowling facilities and most bars. Bingo halls would have three years to build walls to separate smokers from nonsmokers.

The recommendation has no prohibitions on smoking in private homes (unless used as child care or for health care), private autos, private clubs, fraternal organizations, tobacco shops and cigar or tobacco bars. The committee also recommends that smoking be allowed in bars that do not allow admittance or employment to those younger than age 18.

It is time for the Denton City Council to act and improve our current smoking ordinance. We need to be as concerned for the air quality indoors as outdoors. We need to protect those who work indoors.

Let’s make sure that the waitstaff, the bartenders, the musicians and all others who work indoors in Denton get to breathe clean air.

DALTON GREGORY is serving his second term in the District 2 seat on the Denton City Council.

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