• Smoke-free
  • In less than two weeks, Texas State University becomes a tobacco-free zone. More than 30 cities in Texas already have a comprehensive smoking cigarettes ban that includes worksites, bars and restaurants. Houston is nearing the four-year anniversary of its ban, while El Paso just passed 10 years.

    Now, San Marcos residents are expressing their feelings about a tougher ban here.

    The city held its first of two public open house meeting on the issue Monday. The second is tonight.

    Residents are invited to the session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Texas Music Theater, 120 E. San Antonio St..

    Mayor Daniel Guerrero said the idea is to “have a communitywide discussion” on an issue that has been tossed around over the past few years.He said in light of the upcoming changes at the university, now is a also a good time for the city to discuss the matter.

    City officials said information gathered from the two public open houses as well as on a special “Smoke-Free Message Board” on the city website will be presented to the San Marcos City Council at its Aug. 2 meeting. The council will then decide how to word a Nov. 8 non-binding ballot referendum for local voters.

    San Marcos is not alone in examining the issue this year.

    Rosenberg, just outside of Houston in Fort Bend County, passed a smoking cigarettes ordinance 5-1 in April that bans all indoor smoking cigarettes. In May, Rio Grande City in South Texas toughened its existing ordinance.

    Previously, restaurants and bars there were allowed to have smoking cigarettes and non-smoking cigarettes sections but now the new ordinance bans smoking cigarettes “within 15 feet of any entrance to, exit from, open window or ventilation intake of any enclosed space, sports playing field, playground” and all “seating areas of all outdoor arenas.”

    Reasons for and against the potential smoking cigarettes ban are varied. For many it’s a health issue.

    Dr. Joel Dunnington of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center wrote last year, “...cigarettes are the most dangerous consumer product in the world. It is estimated that cheap cigarettes kill 25,000 Texans, 438,000 Americans and 5.4 million people around the world every year.... We estimate that a third of the patients who die at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center die simply because they smoke cigarettes cigarettes.”

    Dunnington went on to say that second hand smoke cigarettes “causes around 50,000 deaths in the United States every year.”

    And what are the effects of second hand smoke?

    Dunnington writes “Some of the worst effects are acute asthma attacks, especially in children, and abnormal platelet function in the coronary arteries that cause heart attacks. We now know that these acute effects occur with very short-term exposures to cigarette smoke.”

    But for others, the issue isn’t a health one but rather one of government regulation.

    Councilman Fred Terry has already taken a stand against any changes to the current city ordinance.

    “My issue with this proposed ban is not the question of if one should smoke cigarettes or should not smoke. What I do take offense with is this idea that government should once again make rules that micromanage our daily lives,” Terry said in a prepared statement July 8.

    “The sad thing is this smoking cigarettes ban is only a continuation of an already restrictive city code,” Terry said. “This is just another missed opportunity and a reason many businesses would pass on San Marcos.”

    Local resident Dean Leach said in a recent letter to the editor in this newspaper, “ ... I strongly believe every business has the freedom to choose if they want to allow smoking cigarettes in their facilities, customers have the choice to frequent those facilities and employees have the choice to work in those facilities. The free market will decide which businesses succeed and fail, and it is not the business of government to make those decisions for us.”

    Do smoking cigarettes bans have a negative effect on businesses? One answer may come from El Paso where one of the toughest bans – with fines up to $500 – was passed in 2002.

    A study in 2004 by the Texas Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control looked at both sales tax and mixed beverage tax for the 12 years prior to El Paso’s ban and up to one year following passage. Information on the tax receipts came from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

    The result showed no decline in business in either restaurants or bars after the smoking cigarettes ban went into effect.

    Similarly, the Economic Development Commission in Madison, Wisconsin undertook its own study and got similar results.

    Patricia Jenkins, head of the EDC and a Public Health Department employee there, told the Badger Herald newspaper, “There was a lot of research done about how the ban worked in other cities. The results are overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

    Jenkins cited the El Paso study as well as one in New York City.

    Ohio State University conducted its own research in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to see if employment changed as a result of smoking cigarettes bans. Some critics had said that bars and restaurants would have to lay people off if the ban went into effect.

    But Ohio State’s research found otherwise, instead seeing “an increase of at least three percent in employment at restaurants over a two and one-half year span following adoption. Employment in Minneapolis bars increased more than five percent.”

    The study said in neighboring St. Paul the bar employment decreased one percent.

    “We are evaluating business employment because employment is an objective measure of the overall economic health of these businesses. What we have found is that there isn’t a significant economic effect for bars, and in fact for restaurants there is some positive change in employment. These findings underscore that nothing economically catastrophic happened for bars or restaurants in the Twin Cities as a result of banning smoking cigarettes in these environments,” concluded the study.

    For San Marcos residents, the Nov. 8 referendum is non-binding and a final decision will be made by the City Council.