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Smoke-free Houston, ten years later

From the inbox:

It’s been 50 years since the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and the harmful consequences from the use of tobacco. 2016 marks the 10th year of the adoption of Ordinance No. 2006-1054 prohibiting indoor smoking in Houston public areas and places of employment. Individuals could no longer smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces or within 25 feet of a building entrance and exit.

So, where are we now, ten years later?

The Houston Health Department has compiled a brief of the ordinance impact on Houston heath and economy, describing successes and future challenges ahead.

Here is what I blogged about the ordinance at the time. There was a social media campaign going on to promote this anniversary. It began on November 7, the day before the election when everyone was sure to tune into such a campaign, and it culminated on November 17, which is the date of the annual Great American Smokeout. Timing issues aside, the document linked at the top of this post is worth perusing. Fewer people are smoking in Houston, though we are not yet at the goal envisioned by this law, and there are measurable health benefits as a result. I certainly prefer this world to the one we used to live in.

Anyway. The Go Healthy Houston Facebook page is where you will see some of the social media stuff. There are concerns about e-cigarettes, which are becoming popular with the kids, and which are currently exempt from existing anti-smoking laws because e-cigs didn’t exist at the time those laws were passed. I’ve noted this before, and I’ll say again that I won’t be surprised if this eventually makes its way before Council for a tune-up on the no-smoking ordinance. There was legislation proposed in 2015 to ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, but none of the bills in question made it through. This too may come up again in 2017, not that it will be a priority. In the meantime, go visit a park or restaurant and enjoy the smoke-free air around you. It’s so much better this way.

Texas tobacco litigation, 20 years later

Interesting look at something I don’t think about very much.

Twenty years ago, then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a federal lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of racketeering and fraud. He said the case would make Big Tobacco change how it did business, force the cigarette companies to make less dangerous products and stop the industry from marketing to teenagers.

The lawsuit, he contended, would require the tobacco companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars, which would be used to reimburse the state of Texas for smoking-related Medicaid costs and fund anti-smoking programs.

“This was the most important health-related litigation in history,” says former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. “Cigarette smoking was the No. 1 cause of death in the entire world.” He adds, “There will never be a case this big or this important ever again.”

Two decades later, legal experts remain divided over whether to label the Texas litigation a success.

The Texas state treasury pocketed billions of dollars from the litigation, though only pennies on the dollars won in the case went to smoking-cessation efforts. Teen smoking plummeted, but cigarettes are just as addictive and dangerous. The tobacco companies are more profitable than ever. The trial lawyers representing Morales got filthy rich.

As for Morales, he married a former exotic dancer, lost his bid for governor and eventually went to federal prison following a scandal involving misused campaign funds.

“The litigation exposed the tobacco industry’s lies, dramatically reduced teen smoking and resulted in limits in cigarette advertising,” says Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But it is far short of meeting the objectives. We didn’t change the industry’s conduct at all. The product is no safer.”


In January 1998, the Texas lawsuit settled on the eve of trial for a record $15.3 billion. It’s the largest settlement of a single case in U.S. history.

“The tobacco companies were looking for peace and it was absolutely the right time for the state to push for a settlement,” says Houston trial lawyer Richard Mithoff.

Mithoff represented Harris County in demanding that the cigarette makers also make payments to counties in the state for their smoking-related health care costs.

Mithoff’s efforts, combined with a clever “most favored nation’s” clause that Potter and the state’s outside lawyers included in the Texas settlement agreement, led Big Tobacco to fork over an additional $2.3 billion in July 1998, which increased the overall Texas settlement to $17.6 billion.

The cigarette makers have paid Texas $10.2 billion so far and make annual payments of about $490 million to the state, according to court records.

To pay for the settlement and lawyers’ fees, tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by $1.40 per pack, which impacted cash-strapped teenagers the most. As a result, teen smoking plummeted. Surveys showed that nearly 36 percent of teens smoked in 1996, but only 12 percent of them do today.

Myers and others point out that Texas budgeted only $10.2 million, or 2 percent of the $490 million payment to be used for anti-smoking efforts in 2016. At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that the tobacco companies will spend an estimated $630 million on marketing their products in Texas.

The public health group says the annual health care costs for treating sick smokers in Texas will be $8.8 billion this year.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. To me, the single most important thing about this is captured in that sentence about teen smoking rates dropping from 36% to 12% over the past 20 years. The overall impact on public health from that is enormous, well more than enough to outweigh any concerns about what this litigation did or didn’t do. We also now know that increasing the price of a pack of smokes is the single bets way to deter kids from buying them, which has informed our public policy since then; you may recall that a $1-a-pack increase on the cigarette tax was a part of the 2006 property tax reduction deal that resulted from the previous school finance lawsuit. Bottom line, this did a lot of good even if it never did (or, in the case of making “safer” cigarettes, never could have) done all that we were told it would do. I do wonder if we would have even attempted to do something like this if it had happened later in Texas’ political history. John Cornyn became AG in 1998, then Greg Abbott in 2002. Would either of them have pursued this litigation? Maybe Cornyn would have, at least at that time, but I can’t see Greg Abbott giving a damn about it. So count me as being glad that Texas Democrats were still able to win statewide in 1994. Who knows how many more people would be smoking today if Dan Morales hadn’t driven this litigation back then?

Why are some people more likely to smoke than others?

From the CDC:

American adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at rates more than double those for adults with private health insurance or Medicare, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show that 27.9 percent of uninsured adults and 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients currently smoke. By contrast, 12.9 percent of adults with private insurance and 12.5 percent of those on Medicare currently smoke.

“Smoking kills half a million Americans each year and costs more than $300 billion,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “This report shows real progress helping American smokers quit and that more progress is possible.”

The study reported that the prevalence of cigarette smoking among U.S. adults declined from 20.9 percent to 16.8 percent from 2005 to 2014, including a full percentage-point decline between 2013 and 2014 alone. The considerable drop in the overall adult smoking rate over time shows marked progress toward achieving the Healthy People 2020 goal of reducing the cigarette smoking rate to 12 percent or lower. Another major finding was that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day among daily smokers declined from 16.7 in 2005 to 13.8 in 2014 — driven by declines in the proportion of daily smokers who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day.

At-risk populations

The study found other differences in smoking rates consistent with previous studies. In 2014, prevalence of cigarette smoking was higher among these groups:

  • Males (18.8 percent vs. 14.8 percent for females)
  • Adults ages 25-44 years (20.0 percent)
  • Multiracial (27.9 percent) or American Indian/Alaska Natives (29.2 percent)
  • People with a General Education Development certificate (43.0 percent)
  • People who live below the federal poverty level (26.3 percent)
  • People who live in the Midwest (20.7 percent)
  • People who have a disability/limitation (21.9 percent)
  • People who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (23.9 percent)

“These findings underscore the importance of ensuring that proven strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use reach the entire population, particularly vulnerable groups,”said Brian King, Ph.D., deputy director for research translation, CDC Office on Smoking and Health. Comprehensive smoke-free laws, higher prices for tobacco products, high-impact mass media campaigns, and barrier-free access to quitting help are all important. They work to reduce the enormous health and financial burden of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among Americans.”

Changes in the U.S. health-care system continue to offer opportunities to improve the use of clinical preventive services among adults. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is increasing the number of Americans with health insurance and is expected to improve tobacco cessation coverage.

Currently, neither private insurers nor state Medicaid programs consistently provide comprehensive coverage of evidence-based cessation treatments. In 2015, although all 50 state Medicaid programs covered some tobacco cessation treatments for some Medicaid enrollees, only nine states covered individual and group counseling and all seven FDA-approved cessation medications for all Medicaid enrollees. Cessation coverage is used most when smokers and health-care providers know which cessation treatments are covered.

I find this fascinating. I’m old enough to remember when smoking was ubiquitous – I’ve experienced the smoking section of airplanes and restaurants – but nowadays not only do I hardly know any smokers, most of the people I know are militantly anti-smoking. The combination of government action and peer pressure has basically made my life, and the lives of most people I know, a non-smoking zone. Which, from my perspective, is awesome. But that yields a big question: Why is it that this effort has been so much more successful among some parts of society than others? What is it that we’ve been doing wrong, or doing inadequately? There’s a huge societal cost to smoking, so figuring this out would be a big deal. I hope the next study focuses on that question.

Banning e-cigarette sales to minors

You’d think this would have a decent chance of passing.

Legislators in Texas, one of just nine states that permit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, will consider banning such sales amid concerns about growing use of the “safer” alternative to smoking among youth.

Even as the Texas Medical Association and Texas Public Health Coalition plan to lobby the 2015 Legislature to regulate e-cigarettes, three bills have been filed to forbid their sale to anyone under 18, a group now found to favor the battery-powered devices that turn liquid nicotine into a vapor the user inhales. The product isn’t considered harmless, particularly in young people.

“Why should it be OK for minors to buy one nicotine product and not another?” asked state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, author of one of the bills. “I don’t know how you justify that. I don’t know how any responsible adult would justify that.”

Alvarado, who as a Houston City Council member spearheaded passage of the ordinance that bans smoking in restaurants and bars, said she’s optimistic the Legislature will pass a bill restricting the sale of e-cigarettes. The idea enjoys bipartisan support, she said, and she is not aware of any likely opposition. The other bills were filed by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.


The planned lobbying effort by the Texas Medical Association and Texas Public Health Coalition stresses banning e-cigarette sales to minors but also includes extending state regulation of tobacco products to e-cigarettes too. Other provisions would fund research on e-cigarettes’ effects and provide for more school-based education about the effects of e-cigarettes, nicotine, tobacco, and other addictive substances.

But Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, a Texas Medical Association leader and chairman of the Texas Public Health Coalition, said prohibiting sales to minors is the most important goal.

“E-cigarettes are too easy for young people to access,” said Sanchez. “It should be just as difficult for young people to obtain and get hooked on them as combustible cigarettes.”

Rep. Alvarado’s bill is HB 170. SB 96 and SB 97, both filed by Sen. Hinojosa, would prohibit the use of vapor products on school property, and apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products, respectively. Some cities outside Texas have taken action to treat e-cigs the same as regular smokes, though cities like Houston have not done so yet. That may change depending on what the state does. None of the usual arguments against statewide smoking bans apply in a case like this, and as Rep. Alvarado notes it’s hard to imagine any lobbying being done in opposition to these bills. Doesn’t mean they’ll pass – it’s always a matter of priorities as much as anything – but if this gets on the calendar I’ll expect it to wind up on Greg Abbott’s desk for a signature.

Smoking ban extended to pedestrian plazas

I’m okay with this.

Main Street Square is now a smoke-free zone following the City Council’s decision Wednesday to expand Houston’s smoking ban to pedestrian plazas, marking the latest effort from the Parker administration to curb lighting up in public places.

The changes to the smoking ordinance are twofold: it expands the ban to Houston’s three so-called “public pedestrian plazas” – streets permanently closed to car traffic but open to pedestrians; it also adds “combustible” and “plant materials” to products included in the smoking ban. City Attorney Dave Feldman introduced those changes last month alongside a proposed ban on synthetic marijuana, that will go to the council next week.

Feldman said complaints from business owners at Main Street Square about smoking and litter prompted the move to expand the ordinance.

In researching how to ban smoking at Main Street Square, the legal department realized there were two other areas in the city that qualify as public pedestrian walkways: a small area on Dunlavy north of Allen Parkway near Beth Yeshurun Cemetery and a block-long portion of the Columbia Tap Rail Trail along Walker Street between Dowling and St. Charles.

Previously, the city’s smoking ordinance contemplated only tobacco, outlawing smoking within 25 feet of a public facility, places of employment, bars and restaurants, outdoor sports arenas and stadiums, city libraries and parks.

The prohibition on smoking in parks and outside libraries is a recent development. I see this as an extension of that. There’s an argument to be made, as some Council members did, that this is an infringement on smokers’ freedom. I get that but I don’t buy it. It’s one block – keep walking, and in another 30 seconds you can light up again. As for the synthetic marijuana stuff, see Texpatriate for a primer. This is probably the last tweak to the no-smoking ordinances for the foreseeable future, at least until we know more about the health effects of e-cigarettes.

Two data points on e-cigarettes

The World Health Organization wants them to be regulated more strongly.

Governments should ban the use of electronic cigarettes indoors and in public places and outlaw tactics to lure young users, the World Health Organization said in a report released on Tuesday. It also raised concerns about the role of big tobacco companies in the fast-growing market.

Considering the numerous uncertainties surrounding e-cigarettes, which have been on the market for less than a decade, the United Nations organization said it was appropriate to prohibit their use indoors “until exhaled vapour is proven to be not harmful to bystanders.”

It also called for regulation to ensure the products contain a standard dose of nicotine, as the drug content now varies widely between manufacturers. And to stop children from picking up the habit, it said that e-cigarette sales to minors should be banned and that fruity, candy-type flavorings should be prohibited.


Electronic nicotine delivery systems “are the subject of a public health dispute among bona fide tobacco-control advocates that has become more divisive as their use has increased,” the report notes. Some experts embrace them as a means of reducing the harm associated with traditional cigarettes while others view them as a threat to the progress that has been made in “denormalizing” the use of tobacco.

Proponents of e-cigarettes argue that they are safer than tobacco, because they do not contain the carcinogens found in tar and other tobacco components. Anecdotal evidence suggests e-cigarettes may hold promise as smoking cessation aids, too. But the World Health Organization report noted that there is scant evidence for their effectiveness in helping smokers give up the habit; the only randomized trial to date to have compared e-cigarettes with nicotine patches “showed similar, although low, efficacy for quitting smoking.”

The organization said e-cigarette advertisers should be prohibited from making any health claims, including on the product’s purported value as a smoking cessation aid, “until manufacturers provide convincing supporting scientific evidence and obtain regulatory approval.”

The report is here. I’ve been following this stuff because while some municipalities are treating e-cigarettes like traditional tobacco products, others like Houston have made no move to amend their existing anti-smoking ordinances. Some jails in Texas are allowing the use of e-cigarettes on the less-harmful-than-tobacco theory, while others aren’t. It’s a coming public debate, and as things stand right now there’s a lack of information about their effects. A lot of entities are waiting to hear more from organizations like the WHO and the Surgeon General.

Also in the news: adolescents who use e-cigarettes are much more likely to try tobacco, according to the CDC.

The morass of conflicting information about e-cigarettes and tobacco use grew deeper Monday, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study showing that adolescents who vape say they are much more likely to smoke conventional cigarettes.

The results show that 43.9 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders who had used e-cigarettes said they intended to light up conventional cigarettes over the next year, compared with 21.5 percent of youth who had never used the electronic nicotine delivery systems.

Overall, more than 263,000 adolescents who had never smoked before used e-cigarettes in 2013, up from 79,000 in 2011, the CDC reported in a study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. The data come from the agency’s National Youth Tobacco Surveys for 2011-2013.

The study also showed that 21.9 percent of the youth who had never smoked traditional cigarettes intended to give them a try in the next year — almost exactly the same proportion as the 21.5 percent who had never tried an e-cigarette — and that, overall, the percentage of youths who reported an intention to smoke declined “significantly” in the 2013 survey.

We all know that smoking is terrible for you, but we don’t yet know how much, or even if, e-cigarettes are “better” than tobacco. If there is a correlation between vaping and smoking among teenagers, that’s a pretty strong piece of evidence that they’re not any better.

Vape ’em if you’ve got ’em

E-cigarettes are not affected by the city of Houston’s smoking ban. For now, anyway.

When city officials announced a sweeping ban on smoking in public parks last month, many in Houston’s growing ranks of electronic cigarette users worried the new rules applied to them.

They do not, but the concern was well founded. Of the country’s five most populous cities, Houston is the only one without a ban on where the devices can be used. There is not enough research on the relatively new, battery-powered plastic or metal tubes that heat liquid nicotine to know their medical effects, leading many cities to preemptively ban them and others to watch how the national debate plays out. For now, Houston is in the latter group.

E-cigarettes emit a water vapor rather than smoke. While most health officials agree using e-cigarettes, known as “vaping,” is less harmful than traditional smoking, many have raised concerns about whether the devices reduce or lead to conventional smoking. Other unknowns include precisely what chemicals the water vapor contains and whether bystanders absorb any nicotine.

Even as Houston has expanded its general smoking restrictions, officials have been hands-off with the controversial devices. The city smoking ordinance does not include e-cigarettes.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker said it is not something the administration is looking to change, largely because e-cigarettes are not considered a tobacco product.

The American Lung Association’s Houston chapter, however, is advocating for the city take the approach of other large urban areas and ban them in the same places as regular cigarettes while the health risks remain unknown.

Some city officials, too, are keen on broaching the issue. Council member Jack Christie, a chiropractor with strong opinions on health policy, said he would like to see restrictions on e-cigarettes in public places, voicing concern about the potential effects of second-hand vapor. Council member Ellen Cohen, chair of the Council’s Quality of Life Committee, also has concerns about second-hand vapor and said she would like to see more federal guidance before considering whether to include them in the city’s smoking ordinance.

“There’s are a lot of things that Houston doesn’t just throw out regulations on,” Christie said. “We let other cities experiment and see what works. And I’m not for over-regulation, but if it helps innocent people, and I think this would, we should do it.”

As you know, I’ve been wondering about this. I’m okay with things as they are now – as the story notes, there’s no litter issue with e-cigarettes, and I don’t think they’re nearly as prevalent as the traditional kind; I know I’ve not encountered any vapers in public spaces as yet. Should there be further regulation at the federal level – which multiple states and local health officials are asking for – or more research showing that they’re harmful, especially to people in their vicinity, then that would be a different story. Until then, I can live with the status quo.

City smoking ban extended to parks and libraries

Who knew they weren’t already, right?

Houston public parks, golf courses and pools will be smoke-free zones come September, marking one of the most sweeping tobacco bans at city facilities.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Turner announced the new policy at a City Council Quality of Life Committee meeting Wednesday, following an announcement by Library Director Rhea Lawson that the ban on smoking inside libraries will expand to the property outside.

The new policies will affect the more than 365 developed parks facilities, which include golf courses and pools, and 42 libraries across the city.

Both department heads said the expanded bans are driven by public health and concerns.

“It’s a welcome family-friendly environment, it’s a safer park experience and it gives us a cleaner facility,” Turner said.

The parks ban mirrors policies in at least 36 other Texas cities and seven of the largest U.S. metros.


A city ordinance already bans smoking within 25 feet of a public facility, places of employment, bars and restaurants and at outdoor sports arenas and stadiums. Those restrictions, all within the last decade, came with controversy, often drawing droves of people to testify at City Council meetings.

Wednesday’s bans came more quietly as both department heads have the ability to govern and change rules of conduct on their grounds without going through City Council.

Here’s the city’s press release on this. I joke about not having realized this, but I can attest that a lot of the people that congregate near the downtown library on Smith Street smoke. Perhaps this will change that. Regardless, I’m always in favor of less smoking.

Note, by the way, the utter lack of any controversy around this. Sure, that’s partly because this was an administrative decision, and partly because there isn’t really a constituency for smoking at parks and libraries like there was for smoking at bars and restaurants. But man, remember the fuss that all kicked up? The apocalyptic predictions? Well, eight years later Houston is a booming, nationally-recognized restaurant scene, and last I checked we still had bars and live music. In fact, the oft-cited Rudyard’s bar in Montrose is alive and well, as is The Next Door. I don’t remember the last time I heard any complaints about Houston’s smoking ban. As someone who remembers being forced by occasional circumstance to sit next to smokers on airplanes, I cannot begin to tell you how much nicer the world we live in now is. Hair Balls has more.

Vaping in jail

Not sure how I feel about this.

As a way to allow some inmates to get their nicotine fix and sheriffs to shore up tight budgets, county jails across the country have begun selling electronic cigarettes. Though the trend has largely bypassed Texas, jail officials say that could change as sheriffs begin to warm up to the smokeless technology.

While traditional cigarettes are banned from most jails, vendors of e-cigarettes, which vaporize a liquid solution for inhalation, see a big market in Texas. The 245 jails regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards have a combined capacity of about 95,000.

Shannon Herklotz, the commission’s assistant director, said he knew of only two county jails in Texas that allowed electronic cigarettes. But more sheriffs, primarily in rural counties with smaller facilities, have expressed a cautious interest in selling them, asking questions about the technology, he said.

“It’s not that it’s not allowed. It’s up to each individual sheriff,” said Herklotz, who supports banning e-cigarettes to prevent issues with contraband at jails. With county jails facing budget shortfalls, e-cigarette vendors are pushing their products as a way for sheriffs to supplement revenue and help inmates suffering from withdrawal.


One vendor, Precision Vapor, recently began selling e-cigarettes to the Titus County Jail in Northeast Texas.

“It was at the request of inmates that we started selling them,” said Michael Garcia, a lieutenant at the jail, which sells the item from its commissary. “The inmates report that they feel more at ease and not as nervous,” he said. “They don’t have the agitation of going from two packs a day to zero.”

The jail, which has an average daily population of about 110 inmates, buys each e-cigarette for $3 and sells about 80 a week at $6 apiece, Garcia said. That profit helps pay for inmate uniforms and other supplies, which “eases the burden of the taxpayers.”

Brian McGiverin, a prisoner rights lawyer at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that most jails strictly banned tobacco but that sheriffs were likely to view e-cigarettes more favorably because they are less of a fire hazard than traditional cigarettes.

“It doesn’t seem like a terrible idea, setting aside the idea of whether it’s a smart idea to smoke in the first place,” he said. “The people are buying it, so that means it’s something that they want.”

Out of curiosity, I sent an email to Alan Bernstein, the Director of Public Affairs for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, to inquire about their policies on e-cigarettes. Here’s what he sent me:

The Harris County Jail, the state’s largest, does not allow inmate use of e-cigarettes because of the negative health effects of nicotine, the potential for these items to be traded among inmates as “currency” and the potential for misuse of the lithium battery and vaporizing function of the items. We are not aware of any vendors approaching our staff to discuss adding e-cigs to our list of inmate commissary products.

As noted before, my main concern is that the health effects of e-cigarettes are not well understood at this time. If they turn out to be helpful in getting people to quit tobacco and they don’t have any harmful effects of their own, then I can see the merit in this, though Bernstein’s point about the potential for misuse is well taken. The bit about e-cigarette sales being helpful to counties with tight budgets and “easing the burden” on taxpayers, however, makes me queasy in the same way that expanded gambling does. Being dependent on a potentially volatile income stream that is in turn highly dependent on the habits – in many cases, addictions – of a small number of mostly vulnerable people but which is invisible to most everyone else strikes me as bad public policy, one that comes with a built-in set of skewed incentives. Maybe I’m wrong – maybe e-cigarettes don’t have much in common with the tobacco kind – but until we know that I’m very skeptical of this.

On e-cigarettes

From the Rivard Report:

After a 2011 ordinance banned indoor smoking in public places around San Antonio, some smokers were left trying to find options to leave tobacco behind. In the ensuing three years, electronic cigarettes and vaporizers have seen exponential growth around the country, with several retail outlets popping up in and around San Antonio.

Monster Vape, co-founded by Christopher Zieg, opened its doors in 2012, and in two years expanded into two more San Antonio stores and a Corpus Christi franchise.

Zieg, a former U.S. Military medic, said he knew the dangers of smoking, but had trouble quitting until he attended a concert and saw the singer vaping onstage. His personal success with quitting smoking after switching to vaping five years ago inspired him to set up shop as he finished his military service in San Antonio.

“Being a medic and seeing what e-cigs have done for me, I wanted to pass that on to other people,” Zieg said, citing a number of benefits, including a lack of tobacco smells on clothing and vehicles, better energy levels, and perhaps most importantly the fewer number of chemicals found in the fluids used in vaporizers.

The health effects of e-cigarettes are currently unknown, and some early reports have mixed news so far. The new smokes are not yet regulated by the FDA, but I strongly suspect they will come under close scrutiny. I also suspect that local governments, which have been very active in banning tobacco use in public spaces, will not wait for a final word from the FDA to act on their own.

While the federal government works out new rules for electronic users, several city governments have started the push to include electronics in existing anti-smoking ordinances. In December, an ordinance passed by New York City Council added vaporizers to the city’s smoking ordinance, treating them as tobacco products and prohibiting their use indoors. Similar ordinances have passed in Chicago, Los Angeles, and King County, Washington, which includes several cities, most notably Seattle.

Cities in Texas have followed suit, including Georgetown, Soccoro, and Frisco, which – like New York – amended previous ordinances, and San Marcos, which made a last-minute inclusion of vaporizers to its first smoking ordinance during its final reading, drawing criticism from shop owners.

“I just don’t think they did their research before making that decision,” said Sharon Teal, owner of Ahh Vapors, LLC in San Marcos. She cited studies released by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association, showing e-cigarettes to be far less harmful than cigarettes.

In cities where the jury is still out on the inclusion of electronics in smoking ordinances, several businesses have introduced their own bans shutting out vaporizers. To Zieg, this will cause vaporizer users to find other businesses where they can vape.

“If you have two coffee shops and one says ‘no’ and one says ‘yes,’ the vapers are going to go where they’re allowed to do what they love,” Zieg says.

That may be true, but it’s as likely that the non-vapers, of whom there are many more, will choose to stay away. Be that as it may, I don’t know how much this is on the radar of Texas cities yet. I admit I don’t get out much, but I think I’ve maybe seen one or two people vaping ever, whereas I still see plenty of the old-fashioned kind of smokers. On the one hand, it would probably be easy enough for most cities to simply amend their existing no-smoking ordinances to include e-cigs – at this time, I doubt there would be that much organized opposition, certainly not as much as there was when the ordinances were first passed. On the other hand, I doubt there’s much of an organized push to get those ordinances updated, either, so for now I’d say most city councils have bigger fish to fry. What do you think about this? Would you like to see Houston or your city act now on e-cigs, or maybe consider the matter later? Would you go even farther than that? Leave a comment and let us know.

UH goes smoke-free

Good for them.

The University of Houston, which educates more than 40,000 students each year on its 667-acre campus, will become tobacco-free June 1, school officials announced Thursday.

The new policy, approved by UH Chancellor Renu Khator, bans the use of tobacco products in all university buildings and grounds, including parking areas, sidewalks and walkways. It will apply to all employees, students, contractors and visitors to the campus.

“We are very well aware that this will be an inconvenience to the UH community of smokers,” said Kathryn Peek, assistant vice president of university health initiatives and co-chair of the school’s tobacco task force. “But nobody has to quit smoking. What we’re trying to do is eliminate second-hand smoke on the campus.”

For smokers, UH will provide 20 designated open areas for tobacco use mostly situated away from buildings and walkways. People will be able to smoke there, but after a year the task force will decide if it will allow those exemptions to continue.


UH is a recipient of more than $9.4 million in funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, which began requiring its recipients in 2012 to have tobacco-free policies in and around all locations where research is conducted.

The University of Texas at Austin and Rice University banned tobacco on their campuses in 2012. Texas A&M is awaiting approval of the president to establish a tobacco-free campus. All are CPRIT grant recipients.

“CPRIT accelerated the university’s tobacco-free campus policy, but that isn’t the sole reason,” Peek said. “This was a student-led movement from the beginning.”

Good to know CPRIT has been good for something. More seriously, I’m somewhat amazed that UH didn’t already ban smoking in these places. Most public places have been smoke-free for so long that I suppose I just took that for granted. This has been in the works at UH since June but it’s just coming up now. Better late than never, I guess.

No smokers need apply

Boy, is this a big can of worms.

Methodist Hospital System in Houston this month announcedit will implement a tobacco-free hiring policy on Jan. 1, joining the Texas Medical Center and Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, which have had similar policies since last year and 2010, respectively.

The policies are straightforward. Applicants who smoke or chew tobacco will not be hired. Existing employees are exempt.

A growing number of hospitals and health care institutions have adopted the policies to promote wellness, improve productivity and rein in rising health care costs, but critics say they discriminate and could lead to punitive actions against other personal habits and vices.

“We think this is an invasion of privacy and really overreaching,” said DottyGriffith, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas. “At what point do you give up your rights and autonomy? Will they not employ those who ride motorcycles and drink alcohol?”

Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Methodist Hospital System, said the policy is about company employees modeling healthy behaviors. More than 13,000 people work at the system’s five hospitals.

“This is part of a journey of wellness and making this a great place to work,” Boom said. “Employees work here to take of care patients. We can only do that if we’re leading by example.”

Methodist’s online application will warn job seekers that it is a tobacco-free employer and that urine tests will be used to detect nicotine. A job offer will be rescinded if an applicant’s results are positive. Free smoking cessation classes will be offered, giving applicants an opportunity to reapply if they have been smoke-free for 90 days.

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for a hospital system to practice what it preaches. There’s a lot to be said for leading by example. And, though it isn’t specifically mentioned in the story, having an entirely non-smoking workforce would be great for Methodist’s bottom line, since it would reduce their own health care costs. Therein lies the rub, of course, because if having a non-smoking workforce is good for the company, then so is having a non-overweight workforce, and who knows what else. Employers have enough power over their employees already, thanks very much. Be that as it may, I have a strong feeling this will ultimately be settled in a courtroom, after someone files suit for discrimination. What do you think?

Steve Brown: The Grown-Up’s Platform

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Steve Brown

Texas Democrats recently adopted a very progressive platform that addresses critical areas of need in our state. It also gives reasonable, mature Texans an alternative to empty ideological rhetoric.

Although most headlines will center on our bold pronouncements in support of marriage equality, abolishing the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana (and rightly so), there are a number of other policy proposals worth mentioning as well.

In addition to the familiar themes related to fully funding public education and supporting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health care reform), Texas Democrats also raised numerous emerging issues as additional items in need of public support and legislative action.

State Budget Policy

Texas Democrats support sensible solutions for fixing the state’s multi-billion dollar structural deficit. We need to modernize our tax base so that it reflects our service-oriented economy. What state lawmakers shouldn’t do, however, is continue to dodge responsibility by punting the costs of services to local governments and taxpayers. Cuts to education, health care and transportation may sound appealing to Tea Party activists, but the truth is that these services are still being rendered at local taxpayer’s expense – an expense that’s more costly and less efficient than if it were addressed at the state level.

Texas’ Impending Water Crisis

Due in large part to recent droughts and population growth, Texas’ towns are literally drying up. We need practical, sustainable solutions to ensure that we have enough water to meet the needs of our people, businesses and agricultural enterprises. In fact, we recommend that the Governor elevate this issue to an emergency item at the start of next session, and identify the funding sources to cover the capital costs associated with creating new water management strategies. Failure to meet our water supply could result in catastrophic human and economic losses.

Smokefree Workplaces

Texas Democrats support the need for a comprehensive statewide smokefree law as a top public health priority. We recognize that prevailing science indicates that secondhand smoke causes preventable diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer. Additionally, the health care costs associated with treating these diseases bear an enormous burden on taxpayers and businesses. It’s time to clear Texas’ indoor air.

Castle Doctrine

In the wake of several incidents, sufficient doubt has been raised as to whether the Castle Doctrine actually is being applied fairly. Texas Democrats urge lawmakers to modify its “Stand Your Ground” law to help prevent vigilantism and encourage neighborhood watch groups to work collaboratively with local law enforcement agencies.


We recognize that we can’t simply build more roads or toll roads to adequately address the state’s transportation infrastructural needs. Texas simply needs more multi-modal options. Its time for the state to invest in light rail, and partner with communities across Texas to create more transportation options. Such investment will help enhance quality of life, attract a vibrant business environment, improve air quality and leverage federal funding opportunities.

These are but a small sample of the priorities identified in the Democratic platform. Texas Democrats understand that it takes a strenuous, reasonable assessment of the true challenges facing our state to ensure that Texas is as great today as it will be fifty years from now. That means that we have to elevate the seriousness of public debate and elect leaders more interested in long-term, sustainable solutions and not regurgitated ideology.

The grown-ups in Texas will find much to agree with in the Democratic Party’s platform.

Steve Brown is the Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and a member of the Texas Democratic Party’s Platform Advisory Committee. Connect with Steve on Facebook at and on Twitter at

No smoking at UH

Put that cigarette down and slowly back away.

The University of Houston is on its way to becoming a tobacco-free campus.

Under a new proposal by school officials, UH would outlaw the “use, sale, advertising, and sampling of all tobacco products” on the 667-acre campus. Currently, smoking is prohibited inside buildings and cars and within 15 feet of building entrances.

The proposed policy must be approved by the UH president and council of vice presidents, but officials already are planning a fall semester “rollout” that would include an education campaign and smoking cessation classes, said Kathryn Peek, assistant vice president of university health initiatives and co-chair of the Tobacco Task Force. The policy would apply only to the main campus.

During a 12-month phase-in of the new policy, smoking would be allowed in temporary designated smoking areas, Peek said.


In February, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced that grant recipients would be required to have tobacco-free policies. UH has received $6.9 million in funding from CPRIT and expects more in the future, Peek said.

The University of Texas at Austin, which has received about $30 million in CPRIT funding, banned tobacco in April. Texas A&M, which has been awarded about $3.4 million in CPRIT grants, plans to modify its current policy, which forbids smoking inside buildings and athletic facilities.

According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, about 711 colleges and universities are 100 percent smoke-free.

I had no idea this sort of thing has been happening on college campuses. My own alma mater has not taken this step yet. I don’t see any sign that the anti-smoking movement is slowing down, which is fine by me. The public health case for limiting cigarettes as much as possible is crystal clear.

Sometimes I think about the ways in which my life and experiences growing up will be utterly incomprehensible to my daughters. Much of that has to do with the advance of technology, but in many ways societal change will be more profound. When I was Olivia’s age, you could fly in the smoking section of an airplane. I’ve had the misfortune of being stuck in such a place before. When I filled out my roommate-match form for college, one of the questions asked was whether or not you smoked. I waited tables at a restaurant the summer after my sophomore year that was about 90% smoking section; the four tables that didn’t have ashtrays on them were non-smoking in name only. In the early 90s, it was still possible to buy an entry for the smoking section of a bridge tournament; these were generally held in hotels. And so on and so forth. Not everything about the world my girls are growing up in is better, but this part of it sure is.

Mayor extends burn ban in parks

From the inbox:

Mayor Parker Extends Parks Burn Ban to Include Smoking

Mayor Annise Parker today signed an executive order extending the City’s temporary burn ban to include smoking in City parks.  The smoking ban applies to lighted cigars, cigarettes, pipes or any other device used for the burning of tobacco or other plant material.

Mayor Parker last week banned the use of barbecue grills and all other outdoor burning in City parks during the ongoing drought.  With the addition of the smoking ban, the City’s policy is now consistent with Harris County’s burn ban.  Violations of the mayor’s executive order carry fines of up to $2,000 per offense.  The executive order will remain in effect until drought conditions improve.

You can see a copy of the executive order here. But look, it’s real simple. Don’t smoke in the parks, OK? I don’t know why anyone needs to be told this, but here you go anyway. Don’t smoke in the parks.

City may ban smoking in parks

Um, yeah.

Mayor Annise Parker said she is considering banning smoking in the city’s 380 parks because of the fire dangers presented by discarded cigarettes.

“This drought is a crisis situation,” Parker said.  ”I am leaning toward a ban on smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars –  a ban on smoking in city parks.  But what I want first is Houstonians to understand why we need to do it and if at all possible to create that voluntary compliance.”

Parker has already reacted to the record drought with other measures. Last month she restricted lawn watering. Last week she issued a ban on open flames in city parks, outlawing barbecuing on thousands of acres of public land.

Parker said a recent fire at Levy Park on Bellaire Boulevard was likely caused by a lit cigarette discarded on a mulch pile.

Not to mention that massive fire in George Bush Park, which was thankfully contained fairly quickly and didn’t damage any county property. And of course the danger of an urban wildfire, too. The question is not whether we should do this, it’s why we don’t already ban smoking in the parks. Time for another update to the anti-smoking ordinance, methinks. Hair Balls has more.

San Marcos takes a step forward on smoking ban

A non-binding step, anyway.

Presented with four ways to proceed with a potential public smoking ban, the San Marcos City Council opted late Tuesday to move forward with putting a nonbinding referendum before voters in November.

Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison said the council wouldn’t have to act even if voters approved the initiative. And if residents vote in favor of a smoking ban, the council would have the opportunity to tweak the language after the election, she said.


Mayor Daniel Gurrero pointed out that there’s still time for the council to “slam on the brakes” if council members decide they don’t want to pursue the initiative.

See here for the background. Those of you in San Marcos who might want to register an opinion about this, there will be two public meetings at which to do so. If you’re wondering about which Texas cities do and do not have smoking bans, Wikipedia has you covered. Looks like West Texas is the place to be if you still want to light one up – Abilene has a ban, but Amarillo (which voted a referendum down in 2008), Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, and San Angelo are all missing from those lists.

Still no statewide smoking ban

Last Tuesday, just before the special session ended, the Trib summarized where the effort to pass a statewide smoking ban stood.

Bill: SB 28 would institute a statewide ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and many public places. If passes, supporters say it would save an estimated $31 million dollars in Medicaid spending over the next biennium.

Status: Passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and headed to the Senate floor, where it will likely land today.

What to watch for: Despite widespread public support for the measure, it faces opposition from owners of smoker-friendly establishments and a corps of conservative lawmakers who killed the amendment during the regular session. Even if it makes it out of the Senate, it will likely die on the clock.

Indeed, SB28 never made it out of the Senate – it never even got a floor vote before the Senate high-tailed it out of town. So, smoke ’em if you got ’em, those of you who live someplace that hasn’t yet tightened its local anti-smoking ordinances. And look for more places like San Marcos to take it up this year or next.

With the fate of a proposed statewide smoking ban in flux in the current session, the San Marcos City Council is considering a November ballot initiative that would ban smoking in public places.

A “public place” is still undefined, and many questions about the potential ordinance have yet to be answered. Mayor Daniel Guerrero said he asked for the item to be put on the agenda to talk about the city’s options.

In the end, council members directed city staffers to return in two weeks with more information about options for a binding or nonbinding referendum, the latter of which would give the council flexibility in when or whether to implement the ban if the voters approve it, possible ordinance language and a schedule for public feedback and future council discussion.

The council must decide whether to put the initiative on the November ballot by Aug. 2.

That was published while the Lege was still in session. I’ll check back later to see what they decide.

Smoking ban survives Senate committee

The statewide smoking ban still lives.

Senate lawmakers pushed a ban on smoking in public places out of committee this afternoon, sending it to the full upper chamber for a vote.

Senate Bill 28, which would ban smoking indoors in bars, restaurants and many public places, has failed to make it through past legislative sessions despite public support. It was voted out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with a 5-4 vote.

State Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, both filed smoking ban bills during the regular session, only to see them defeated. In May, House lawmakers led by Crownover attached the ban to SB 1811, a funding bill, but the measure was stripped out in conference committee after objections from senators.

The House Appropriations Committee gave its approval to a different statewide smoking ban bill, HB46, two weeks ago. It’s still not clear to me that this can pass the full Senate, and it’s not clear Rick Perry will sign it if it’s a standalone bill, but clearly progress is being made.

Smoking ban lives again

Never say never when the Lege is in session.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 19-1 to recommend their colleagues approve HB 46, designed to stop secondhand smoke from polluting the air and lungs for others.

“It’s the No. 1 public health issue for this session. It’s the No. 1 clean air issue in this session,” said bill author Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, who succeeded her late husband 11 years ago after he passed away from cancer.


The Texas ban would only apply to public places, which would not affect a VFW hall, she noted. Businesses that are licensed by the Texas Health Department or the Alcoholic Beverage Commission would be affected.

“This is not a ‘nanny state’ bill. This bill is about asthma that kills people. It’s about heart attacks,” she said.

The pool hall industry opposes an indoor smoking ban because about 70 percent of its customers are hard-core smokers, said Philip Robert Brinson, general counsel for Fast Eddie’s Billiards, which operates 18 pool halls in Texas.

“It’s a niche business. It’s a pool hall. (Customers) know people smoke. That’s why they go,” the Houston lawyer told the Appropriations Committee.

Here’s HB46. As this was able to pass the House once, the only real question is whether or not the votes are there in the Senate. With the 2/3 rule not being in effect, it’s possible it could pass. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there is majority support for it, just not 21 votes. We’ll find out soon enough.

Smoking ban well and truly dead

Nice try, but no dice.

Many thought this was the year. But Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, acknowledged on Saturday that a measure establishing a statewide smoking ban in Texas is dead.

Crownover blamed its failure on a “handful” of Senate conferees who refused to keep a smoking ban amendment on Senate Bill 1811, a sweeping fiscal matters bill. She said the amendment would have saved taxpayers $30 million in Medicaid spending over the next biennium.

The smoking ban language that had been added by the House was taken out by the Senate on Thursday. Crownover had hoped to get it back in, but clearly that didn’t happen.

“I am proud of the work we did this session. We passed this legislation in committee in both chambers and won a major victory on the House floor,” Crownover said. “Science, logic and reasoning are on our side now, and ten years from now the idea of smoking in a restaurant will be as bizarre an idea as smoking on an airplane is today.”

Crownover said by raw numbers, she had a majority of votes in both the House and Senate to pass the smoking ban. But because of Senate rules, which require a two-thirds vote to bring bills to the floor, “a unified minority” blocked her legislation.

Which suggests to me Rep. Crownover will face the same problem next time as well. Not that it will stop her, nor should it. Trail Blazers has more.

House passes statewide smoking ban

One of the many amendments that was successfully added to SB1811 Friday night was by Rep. Myra Crownover to finally implement a statewide smoking ban.

The close vote, 73-66, came during debate on the enormous budget-related bill, Senate Bill 1811.

The amendment by Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, was one of a few opposed by the measure’s House sponsor, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, that actually passed.

The amendment would ban smoking in public places, which would include bars and restaurants because they are places where anyone would be welcome.

You can see Rep. Crownover’s amendment here, and the amendments that were successfully tacked on to her amendment here and here. This still has to make it through the Senate, but it’s as far as any previous attempt has ever gone. The Trib has more.

Two smoking stories

Rep. Myra Crownover will make her biennial attempt to pass a statewide smoking ban in Texas, which if it passes would make it harder to smoke.

Although she believes in limited government, Crownover said 53,000 people die each year in the U.S. from second-hand smoke, and that is unacceptable.

“I think this is the most important public health issue before the Legislature at this time,” she said. Banning indoor smoking, she said, would benefit both customers and employees.

The bill would also create a level playing field for business across the state with a uniform statewide policy instead of the hodgepodge of city regulations that exist now, said Crownover. And people who choose to smoke would still be able to do so outside, she said.

Dr. Joel Dunnington, speaking for the American Cancer Society, told the House Public Health Committee the smoking ban would save $440 million to the state’s economy biennually because most bar and restaurant employees don’t have health insurance. When those employees get sick, they end up going to public hospitals, where often the cost is passed on to taxpayers.

The Legislative Budget Board estimates the savings would be a bit more modest: $31 million over the next biennium.

Meanwhile, in its attempt to find loose change under every budgetary couch cushion, the Lege will also make it harder to quit smoking.

Finding ways to cut health care costs is all the rage under the Pink Dome — and curbing smoking is a proven way to do it. But both the House and Senate budget proposals slash tobacco cessation programs by more than 80 percent, or $20 million over the biennium.

Health care advocates say such cuts would devastate programs that deter children from smoking and eliminate regional efforts that have curbed tobacco use among adults. And they argue that the money, which comes from a multibillion-dollar lawsuit settled with big tobacco companies in the late 1990s, is supposed to be used for anti-smoking education.

“If you ask what the biggest health threats are to the state, tobacco is in the top three, but we’re not putting money where our mouth is,” said Troy Alexander, associate director of advocacy for the Texas Medical Association, one of several groups gathering at the Capitol this morning to oppose cuts to tobacco control and obesity reduction efforts. “If you look at how we’re taxing tobacco, we’re not hesitating to benefit from the use of tobacco, but we aren’t doing much to reduce consumption.”

Well, when cost cutting becomes an end rather than a means to an end, one should expect some contradictory policies. I don’t know what else to say.

Is this the year a statewide smoking ban passes?


The latest from Gov. Rick Perry’s preferred polling firm, Baselice & Associates, shows that 70 percent of Texans support a ban on indoor smoking, including in restaraunts and bars.

The sentiment appears to cut across party lines. The ban was supported by 67 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats. Of those that identify with the Tea Party, 54 percent favored the idea. The poll also found that 63 percent of Texas voters are more likely to vote for a state legislator who supports such a law.

Last session, smoke-free legislation failed to get enough traction to get through the process. The push for a different outcome this time around has already begun. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, have both filed bills to ban smoking in public indoor spaces.

The measures have the support of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “Now is the time to make smoke-free workplaces a reality,” he said in a statement.

Until proven otherwise, my opinion is that anything other than the budget, redistricting, and Governor Perry’s wingnut wish list should be considered questionable for passage. Having said that, Dewhurst wouldn’t bother making a statement in favor if he wasn’t on board, and I don’t think Perry’s pollster would get involved if the Governor was going to be an obstacle, so this has a few important ducks lined up. With so many cities passing similar bans – San Antonio being the last domino to fall – it makes sense that the state would step in to fill the gaps. There is some organized opposition, but if the restaurant and hospitality crowd is in favor, I don’t think that will matter much. The real enemies are the calendar and the higher priorities that have been defined. Hair Balls and Postcards have more.

Statewide smoking ban still on tap

Now that every major city in Texas has an ordinance that bans smoking in most public places, attention turns to the Lege where another attempt will be made next year to pass a similar ban.

Similar legislation died in the waning days of the 2009 Legislature despite the support of cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and an aggressive push by a statewide coalition of public-health organizations. Proponents couldn’t overcome opposition from conservative free-enterprise groups that denounced the ban as government intrusion into private property rights

Spokesmen for the coalition, Smoke-Free Texas, said Wednesday that supporters are preparing to reintroduce the measure in the 2011 Legislature, convening in January, while conceding that they face the same obstacles.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who co-authored the Senate version of the bill in 2009, said she is eager to resume that role in 2011.

“We’re as vibrant and strong as ever,” said James Gray, government relations director for the American Cancer Society, one of the member groups of Smoke-Free Texas. “We’re a group that’s not going away until it’s done.”

But Peggy Venable, Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, said opposition forces are equally determined to deliver another knockout if the bill resurfaces.

“We’re concerned about it — not because we want to encourage more people to smoke, but because we care about property rights and individual freedoms,” said Venable, a nonsmoker and breast cancer survivor.

I generally don’t strain myself trying to understand the thinking of the Free Market Fairy people, but even taking that into account, I don’t quite get this. As noted in the story, one complaint about the municipal approach is that bars and restaurants on or close the a city’s boundaries may find themselves competing with joints that are outside the city’s limits and thus not subject to the same rules. You’d think that getting a uniform standard would be appealing, and given that the Americans for Prosperity crowd isn’t actively working to repeal the existing municipal bans – to the best of my recollection, these groups weren’t involved in the local debates, at least not in Houston and San Antonio – legislative action is the logical course. Not for them, I guess. Anyway, given all the other things that will be happening next year it’s hard to say what the odds of success are, but the battle will be joined.

Interview with State Rep. Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado

I’m wrapping up the legislative interviews this week. First up is State Rep. Carol Alvarado, who is serving her first term representing HD145. Rep. Alvarado had previously served three terms on Houston City Council, where she was the author of the updated smoking ordinance from 2007. She continued that work in the Lege, where she was the joint author of a statewide anti-smoking bill. That fight will continue in the 2011 Lege, and it was one of the things we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

San Antonio smoking ban passes

By a slightly larger margin than expected.

The City Council on Thursday approved a fortified smoke-free ordinance aimed at protecting public health, despite pleas from frustrated bar and restaurant owners who said that the ban would hurt their business.

The new ordinance, which will qualify San Antonio as a smoke-free city under criteria set by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, closes exemptions that have allowed smoking in bars, pool and bingo halls, comedy clubs and restaurants with enclosed smoking areas.


The new rules, which will take effect Aug. 19, 2011, replace a policy riddled with exemptions and perceived as being watered-down.

Mayor Julián Castro, an early and strong supporter of the measure, noted that San Antonio is excelling in the biomedical and health care industries, moving its economy into some of the “most important economic sectors of the 21st century.”

“It’s ironic then, today, when we pass this ordinance, San Antonio will be bringing up the rear — becoming the last major Texas city to adopt this kind of ordinance,” he said.

So there you have it. We’ll see if this has any effect on efforts to pass a statewide ban, as that would address the complaints about bars and restaurants in unincorporated areas near big cities having an advantage by not being subject to the same restrictions.

The Mayor and the smoking ban

Interesting story about San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who did not campaign on expanding that city’s smoking ban but is now the leading proponent of it. He’s likely to get it passed on Thursday with a 6-5 vote, though a wider margin is possible. Not that it really matters – in most functioning governmental bodies (that is, outside of the US Senate), the majority is all you need. Worth a read, so check it out.

San Antonio smoking ordinance heads for a vote

The revised San Antonio smoking ordinance has made it out of Council committee and will be voted on, in some form, next week.

The proposal originally sought to ban indoor smoking, ending the exemptions for bars, pool halls, comedy clubs, bingo halls and restaurants that have enclosed smoking systems.

Since then, the proposal has been made tougher by including outdoor places such as the San Antonio Zoo, the River Walk, Alamo and Main plazas, city-owned parks, child care and adult day care centers, outdoor sports arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters.

The proposal would also prohibit smoking within 20 feet of outdoor public transportation stations and outdoor service lines for ATMs, concerts, food vendors, movies and sporting events.

But by the time the council votes on the proposal, it might have taken a different shape.

Mayor Julián Castro said Monday that the council will pass an ordinance next week “that protects the public health more effectively.”

There are places that the language can be sharpened, and there’s room for some changes.

“For instance, with parks, I’m not adverse to banning smoking in the pavilion and playground areas in lieu of the entire park,” Castro said.

But there’s also no room for negotiation on certain parts of the proposal.

“At the end of the day, the indoor smoking will be completely covered by this ordinance,” he said. “To the extent there’s compromise, that compromise will center on outdoor smoking restrictions.”

To say the least, it’s been a contentious process. The San Antonio City Council seems more divided on the issue than Houston’s Council was when its revised ordinance was passed. I’ll be interested to see how it winds up.

Still more on the San Antonio smoking ordinance

Here’s an Express News article from last Sunday about the effect that municipal ordinances that have banned smoking in bars and restaurants have had on those establishments. Interestingly, the main place it goes for anecdotal evidence is Houston.

Lizzard’s Pub, a bar tucked away in the River Oaks neighborhood on this city’s near West Side, hasn’t been quite the same since the City Council banned smoking in bars three years ago, owner Elizabeth Knox says.

“In the first three months, business dropped a good 30 percent because people were angry,” Knox said. “Now, those people ended up coming back.”

Others in the Houston bar industry said their customers didn’t waver when the city went smoke-free — a step San Antonio’s City Council could soon take.

“I don’t think it affected too many places in Houston,” said Joe Jackson, general manager of the Ginger Man, a beer-and-wine pub in Rice Village. “We knew we’d be OK.”

In September 2007, when Houston banned smoking in bars, Jackson said he didn’t see a drop in sales.

“Once you get used to it, it’s not that big of a deal,” he said. “It didn’t affect a lot of the places that thought they were going to be affected by it.”

This totally doesn’t surprise me, but then I support these ordinances, so take that with whatever amount of salt you like. The story notes a number of economic impact studies cited by the pro- and anti-smoking forces, and again to my subjective perspective, the anti-smoking side seems to have the better of it. It was amusing to me to see the pro-smoking forces come out in droves in the comments to my previous post. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see them scoring a whole lot of victories in recent years. They’re fighting to not have to retreat any more, and there’s not a whole lot of friendly turf for them. It’s not just a matter of legislation, it’s a matter of society. Smoking isn’t acceptable to a large portion of the population, and that isn’t going to change.

But who knows, maybe they’ll hold serve in San Antonio, at least for now. I still believe that a statewide ordinance will pass sooner or later, so as far as that goes I’m not too worried about it. Cary Clack and Veronica Flores-Paniagua, both of whom discuss the racial aspect of these protests that was raised by LULAC and the NAACP, have more.

San Antonio smoking ban protests

The proposal to strengthen the smoking ban in San Antonio has drawn protest from a previously silent constituency.

LULAC, the San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the San Antonio Restaurant Association joined forces to create the Save Our Jobs Alliance. The coalition opposes strengthening the city’s smoking ban.

LULAC got involved, [its President Rosa] Rosales said, because the organization believes “there is a disparity in the application of this ordinance.”


The proposal would adversely impact small, minority and women-owned businesses, Rosales said.

She took aim at cigar bars, which could be exempt from the new ordinance.

“Who goes to a bar to buy a $30 cigar? Who goes to a bar to buy a $40 cognac?” she said on the steps of City Hall during the alliance’s news conference Monday. “We don’t do that. We don’t have that kind of money. And that’s disparity treatment.”

Others, including Mi Tierra restaurateur and restaurant association president Ruben Cortez, said the proposed ordinance would put San Antonio businesses at a disadvantage.

“It’s all about economics,” Cortez said. “We’re not fighting the science.”

The San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association’s Bill Johnson, a bar owner who led Monday’s news conference, offered a doomsday scenario if the proposal were adopted later this year. He said it could lead to the loss of “hundreds, possibly thousands” of local jobs in the bar and restaurant industry.

San Antonio’s proposal doesn’t differ that much from what is currently in place in Austin, Houston, and Dallas. El Paso’s “strictest in the nation” smoking ban was enacted in 2002. Only the Alamo City and Fort Worth have more lenient ordinances. I have to ask, how does San Antonio differ from those other cities? Houston’s ordinance specifically exempts cigar bars, too. I don’t recall anyone making this argument about it back then, though I suppose I could have missed it.

As for the claims about job loss, again I say we have many examples to study. The results in El Paso after a year of their new ordinance showed that bars and restaurants did just fine. What San Antonio’s Council is studying isn’t anything new or untested. If you want to make claims about its potential economic impact, show me some data from Austin, Houston, Dallas, or El Paso that backs up those claims. We’re long past the hypothetical stage on anti-smoking ordinances, so please spare me the hyperbole. Show me jobs lost in other cities, or I call BS.

Smoke-Free San Antonio update

As we know, the city of San Antonio is working on updating its ordinance that restricts smoking. The first draft of that has emerged from committee, and it’s got some teeth to it.

The strengthened recommendations, which will be considered in August by the Quality of Life Committee before heading to the full council later in the month, now include banning smoking in several public spaces, including the San Antonio Zoo, the River Walk, Alamo and Main plazas, parks and outdoor stadiums.

That’s in addition to extending the city’s smoking ban to bars, pool halls, comedy clubs, restaurants and bingo halls, as introduced in April.

I don’t recall if Houston’s updated ordinance mentions parks or other outdoor locations like that. I do know that the Houston Zoo is smoke-free, and I’m rather surprised that isn’t already the case for the San Antonio zoo. The rest is more or less the same as what we now have. That includes some of the arguments against it:

Restaurateur Louis Barrios, an outspoken opponent of a stronger smoking ban, said he wasn’t surprised to learn that the proposed ordinance had strengthened.

“It’s being framed as a health issue, but the reality is that it’s not a health issue because it’s not statewide,” he said.

Opponents of the proposal have said they would support a statewide smoking ban because it would offer a level playing field. They argue that if San Antonio enacts a smoke-free ordinance, then the market would shift to nearby municipalities and business would suffer.

[Mayor Julian] Castro says he doesn’t buy that argument.

“I’d just say the overwhelming evidence indicates that the smoking ban is either neutral or beneficial to bars and restaurants in terms of revenue,” he said. “More people will frequent non-smoking establishments.”

The Lege has tried and failed to pass a statewide smoking ban in each of the last two sessions. I continue to believe that such a thing will eventually pass, but who knows how long that could take. As for the allegations about city businesses losing out to those in the surrounding unincorporated county areas, all I can say is that I haven’t seen any evidence of that here. Doesn’t mean there isn’t any – maybe it’s just a greatly under-reported story – but it at least suggests that the concern is overblown. We’ll see how this plays out. More on the story here and here.

Still smoking in San Antonio

But maybe not for much longer.

San Antonio City Councilman Justin Rodriguez announced [last] Friday that he is sponsoring an ordinance to outlaw smoking in most public places, including all bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Rodriguez said San Antonio is one of the largest cities in the country without legislation to protect the public from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“We recently missed out on federal funding because we’re not a smoke-free city,” Rodriguez said. “It’s so important to the future of our community.”

Rodriguez said the new ordinance would close any loopholes in existing anti-smoking laws.

The City Council passed an ordinance in 2003, which a group called the Smoke-Free San Antonio Coalition does not believe went far enough.

“There have been certain criteria that you could have smoking allowed in (some businesses),” said coalition chair Suzanne Lozano, who’s also a registered nurse.

San Antonio is approximately where Houston was before it passed a more extensive smoking ban back in 2006. That was done after Austin voted to adopt a tougher anti-smoking ordinance in 2005; numerous other cities including Dallas and Galveston have since followed suit. Given how common this is now, I don’t suppose it had even occurred to me that San Antonio had lagged behind on this. I expect this to pass fairly easily when it comes to a vote, but there is some opposition on Council.

[City Council member John] Clamp argues that “the market is working,” and banning smoking in San Antonio could push businesses to other municipalities in Bexar County. Customers can choose to go to other places, he said.

But Rodriguez agues that employees can’t.

“I don’t think folks have a choice to work in a smoking or nonsmoking establishment,” he said. “They go where the jobs are.”

Clamp disagrees.

“I think everybody has a choice on where to work,” he said. “If you really think second-hand smoke is bad for you, don’t work in a bar.”

More regulations will hurt business, Clamp said.

“They’ll have to lay off some of their wait staff, for sure,” he said. “If you’re not bringing in enough money, then you’ll have to lay people off.”

Sounds an awful lot like Houston’s debate, with Rodriguez playing the part of then-Council member and smoking ban advocate Carol Alvarado, and Clamp filling in for Michael Berry or Addie Wiseman. Seems to me you could check on Houston’s experience to measure Clamp’s claims if you wanted to. The Houston Press did an informal survey of bars and live music venues in 2007, which suggested it was mostly no big deal, but that’s the last I recall hearing about it. Which is kind of suggestive in itself – if there were a trend of places closing or relocating to less-restrictive unincorporated Harris County, you’d think there’d have been more news about it. My suspicion is that San Antonio’s experience will be like Houston’s, including how the passage of the ordinance plays out. Queblog has more.

Galveston goes smoke-free

Good for them.

The Galveston City Council adopted a comprehensive smoking ban Thursday, forbidding people from lighting up in bars, restaurants, private clubs and tobacco stores.

Council members Karen Mahoney, Elizabeth Beeton and Tarris Woods joined Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, who championed the ban, in voting for the ordinance. Council members Danny Weber and Susan Fennewald voted against it. Councilwoman Linda Colbert was absent.

The ban will take effect Jan. 1.

The adopted ordinance is more restrictive than the regulations the council previously discussed, a compromise that guaranteed its passage.

Mahoney, Beeton and Thomas agreed to approve the ban with an exception for tobacco stores, but Woods said he could only give his support if the measure was universally applied.

To make sure the ban passed, the other three agreed.

Several prominent restaurateurs and business groups who opposed a similar smoking ban proposed in 2006 said they would support it this time as long as it put all businesses on a level playing field. They lobbied against giving an exception to private clubs, saying it would provide a loophole for unfair competition from anyone who opted to run what was really a for-profit business as a members-only establishment.

That makes their ban stricter than Houston’s, and they accomplished it in one round. This is where I’d usually say something about the prospects for a statewide ban, but after this past session I’m giving up on that. If it ever happens, it happens. Thanks to Houstonist for the tip.