Workplace Smoking Ban Pins Hopes on Budget Bill's Success
by: Ed Mayberry, May 5, 2011 4:05:00 pm
The bills working their way through the Legislature — and eventually on to the calendar — wouldn't end outdoor smoke breaks at work. But the new law would prohibit indoor smoking in most public places, including workplaces, restaurants and bars.
"It doesn't apply to private residences. It won't apply to hotels or motels."
Democrat State Representative Pete Gallego of Alpine notes that Texas is one of only seven states without smoking bans at private work sites, restaurants or bars, although some cities — like Houston — have local laws.
"It would essentially do an 'across the board,' so that you wouldn't have a sporadic 'some cities do, some cities don't' kind of thing — make it uniform across the state, so you always know what the law is where you are."
That problem is echoed by Republican State Representative Myra Crownover of Denton.
"Right, and we have a problem like in the Metroplex where you have a checkerboard effect, where you don't know if you stop at one Chili's, will it be smoke-free? Or will the, what town — so you need to know what town you're in."
Democrat Carol Alvarado of Houston wrote a similar bill when she was on the City Council.
"For example in Houston, you have some cities like West U or surrounding suburbs that don't have that. So it is an unfair advantage for some businesses, or it can be seen that way. But I think the big thing is that we recognize how much money we spend on health care because of smoking — whether it's in Medicaid or what people pay."
The idea would be to balance the rights of smokers with the rights of people to work and socialize free of second-hand smoke. Representative Crownover co-authored House Bill 670.
"Personal property rights or individual liberties just doesn't hold up when you're physically harming another human. I don't think anybody would want to — if they really thought about it — would want to sit down and smoke at the expense of somebody else's' health."
Crownover says the smoking ban could help with the state's projected $27 billion spending gap by saving the state millions in health care costs.
"There are certified $30 million savings in Medicaid expenditures over the next two years. And so with our financial situation the way it is, I don't see any reasonable excuse for leaving that money on the table."
Southern states lag in smoke-free laws, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the CDC predicts that all states will be smoke-free by 2020.