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Statewide smoking ban update

Earlier in this session, I thought the odds of a statewide smoking ban getting passed were pretty good. As of this point, however, it appears to be a dicier proposition.

The chairman of the House committee considering a proposed statewide workplace smoking ban said [Wednesday] that it’s unclear whether the measure has a future this session.

“It’s at a stalemate right now,” state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, said in an interview. “It’s an important issue to a lot of people, and a lot of people think it goes too far.”

The measure would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Supporters — which include the American Cancer Society, Texas Medical Association and the Lance Armstrong Foundation — say that it’s a key way to cut down on harmful secondhand smoke. Critics say it’s an affront to the rights of property owners and businesses.

The Senate version of the proposal — by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston — was considered in a public hearing yesterday before the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, which did not immediately vote on the measure.

On the House side, Solomons said he’s promised the bill’s author, Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, that the measure will get a hearing. But he said he’s not sure whether it will make it out of committee.

Crownover’s bill is HB5, Ellis’ is SB544. Both are pending in committee. Crownover has a diverse array of coauthors on her bill – anything that can attract the support of Leo Berman and Lon Burnam, Warren Chisum and Jessica Farrar can safely be said to have broad bipartisan support. That still may not be enough, of course.

Which isn’t to say there’s been no progress on the anti-smoking front. The Senate this week passed a bill that would raise the legal age for buying smokes from 18 to 19. I basically feel the same way about this as I do about the drinking age – if we define adulthood as beginning on your 18th birthday, then that should be universal – but on the other hand, the potential health benefit that could be gained by this, which would include some nontrivial cost savings for the state, is quite large. Doesn’t change the philosophical objection, but it is a different matter from a pragmatic perspective.

More on lowering the drinking age

I’ve blogged before about the Amethyst Initiative, and the arguments for and against their efforts to lower the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18 to combat what they call “a culture of dangerous binge drinking” on college campuses. Whatever you may think of this, some state legislatures are paying attention. The Thicket reviews some of the legislative action so far, and has a short podcast that discusses the reasons why this has gained traction, and the potential consequences from a federal funding perspective for any state that takes the plunge. Check it out.