City Passes New, Tougher Smoking Rules

In one of the most hotly debated issues in recent memory, Houston's city council has approved an expansion of Houston's current smoking ordinance to include most bars. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the 13-2 vote didn't come without considerable confusion and an attempt by some to weaken the ordinance.

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After a blizzard of amendments that would have changed the proposed ordinance considerably, councilwoman Ada Edwards summed-up the general mood at city council.

"I'm so confused."

After sorting through those amendments and voting most of them down, council members closed the book on months of debate by approving the expanded smoking ordinance that now includes bars, not just restaurants. Exempted from the rules are cigar bars, outdoor restaurant patios, certain rooms at the convention center, limited hotel rooms and private meeting facilities. Before the vote, councilmember Adrian Garcia wondered why it's okay to smoke in some places, but not others.

"We're debating an ordinance that admits that smoking and second hand smoke is kind of bad because we're saying to some bars that to allow smoking, you are killing your patrons and you are killing your employees. But to other bars, we are saying that because it is in your business plan to kill your employees and to kill your patrons, that they're exempt from the ban."

Michael Berry was one of two councilmembers to vote against the expanded smoking rules and says it's another example of government intrusion.

,em>"I would say for those busy-bodies who love big government this is a celebration for them. They get to regulate more of people's lives and people are left with fewer liberties today so I guess for those busy bodies that love to regulate, this is a great victory for them."

But supporters of the tougher ordinance say it's about public health and sparing non-smokers, including workers at bars, from second-hand smoke. Melinda Little is with the American Cancer Society.

"This is a great day for us, it's a great day for public health in Houston. We're very excited that this happened. It's something that we've been working a long time for. We expect that this ordinance is going to protect most of the workers in the city of Houston and is going to make public health much stronger here."

For some, like bar owner Mary Price, the new rules are much more personal. She runs the Crazy Frog Saloon on the north side near the city limits.

"As far as I'm concerned, they just put me out of business. I've never been so mad in my whole entire life. It's just totally undemocratic. How come cigar bars, they already admit that's where they go, it's fine to smoke. How come everyplace they get to pick. I mean, what about all of us small businesses."

There are conflicting numbers on how much bars in other cities with similar smoking rules have been affected. The new rules in Houston don't take effect until September of next year.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...