Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Smoking Follies

Tuesday Council meeting was the Smoke-free Initiative and Referendum "no smoking" ordinance roll-out. The Smoke-free co-chair Lisa Burger opened, as expected. She promised not to be too long, "I know we have others wanting to speak. I don't know if we'll take comment from, uh the other side". Mayor New hastened to point out that we would hear from the public, even those of us so unenlightened as to disagree with our betters.

Later during comment, Burger responded to a hotelier's complaint about the restrictions on rooms he would be allowed to designate as smoking. She assurred him he could keep 20% of rooms smoking. I tried to get recognition to protest that percentage was destined to expire in 4 years, but I had already spoken, did not get the mike.

Almost glad I didn't. Silly me, that 4 year expiration was in the OLD Smoke-free proposal, the one this group filed and collected 4,500 signatures with. For convenience I will call it SmokenannieI. I went home that evening, I'm going to write about the meeting, but just for fun, I check the City of San Angelo website, they have a handy link front and center of homepage.

I must digress here; also Tuesday we got a State Comptrollers award for open records tranparency, my opinion overdue. I've been looking at City business for a long time, and the improvement on this front is awesome thanks to a lot of hard work by staff. Without that transparency, I might not have found what I was able to.

When I checked the site, imagine my surprise at discovering we had a whole NEW Smoke-free ordinance posted, I will call this changeling child SmokenannieII. Oh, it still had to do with regulating smoking in San Angelo, it still didn't cut bars any slack, but there ends the similarity. Many definitions changed, some places (tobacco shops, hotels) had restrictions removed, bars and restaurants now find even their outdoor seating "prohibited", other "modifications" which Mr. Turner put together in a convenient comparison found [here].

In short, Smoke-free "sold" a product to 4,500 signers and then felt free to substitute a substantially different product to bring before Council.

It really wasn't that hard. I'd be surprised if 1% of those signers actually read all of SmokenannieI. I confess, when the legal document was published April 18 in tiny agate type, I did not grab the magnifying glass my aging eyes would have required to read it, I just noted "OK, they complied"; after all, I had already read it. What was published was SmokenannieII, and if anyone caught it then, I haven't heard about it. SmokenannieII had been submitted e-mail, I understand to facilitate publication.

For those unfamiliar, I started sending copies of my editorial submissions e-mail a good while back. It saves the editor the labor of re-typing hard copy. It's a time-saving courtesy. In this case, someone from Smoke-free used it to substitute a whole new document and given the length, it understandably slipped by proofreading by City or Standard-Times staff or me, or anyone.

What makes this all the shabbier, once the thing hits Council and Council inevitably makes amendments, the five members of the initiating committee have full authority to accept, reject, counter-propose and generally horsetrade on behalf of the signers they represent. It's not as though they can call 4,500 people and consult on every amendment. What I do NOT find in Charter Sec 47 is the authority to collect signatures on one document and then gut and rebuild that before Council ever sees it!

Folks, there's no other way for me to put this: Smoke-free cheated, blatantly, and they almost got away with it. I'm not an attorney or a cop, I can't say (yet) if they violated law, but they certainly violated the spirit of Initiative and Referendum. It appears they violated 277.0023 of Texas Election Code, but penalty for that is not specific.I will be advising Council to rescind its acceptance of a tainted petition and tell the players to come back when they can play by the rules.

I know for sure, there are some mighty unhappy people downtown, people who gave this supposedly high-minded, well-intentioned group the benefit of trust and are feeling betrayed. Myself, until today, I disagreed with them, was prepared for an open battle of words and will, but I respected their position and intentions. I cannot say that now.

(Original ordinance, updated ordinance, changes)


  1. Mr. Ryan if you look in a mirror the wrinkles you see on your face are some of the ill affects of tobacco smoking. You are aging before you time.

  2. I am touched by your concern, but it has been a while since anyone carded me for a six-pack. My work history is driving/construction, major part of that in the West Texas sun.

    Can't say smoking has no part in my aging, but for the most part I have earned both wrinkles and grey hair.

  3. As someone who has spent many years in the West Texas sun I disagree, you wrinkles and aged look are from tobacco smoking, not the sun.

    If you are still a smoker I urge you to quit.

    The mother who spoke at the council meeting and said she always smokes away from her husband and children should quit smoking if she truly loves here children. If not they will she her die at a young age and bring grief to her loved ones.

    As far as the small bar owners it is the customers who frequent those businesses who will show up at local hospital emergency rooms with a pack of cigarettes in their pocket but no health insurance and no way to pay for their treatment. Thus is those of use who do not smoke who end up paying the medical bills for illnesses caused by tobacco smoking.

    Every business which has banned smoking has seen an increase in customers.

    Mr. Ryan you are responsible for your own health. Don’t sell yourself short.

    Hard work should earn you a comfortable retirement. Tobacco smoking could rob you of a comfortable old age. You are still a young man. I know it is not said much these days but when I was growing up a popular saying was “life begins at fifty.”

  4. Anon, I really wonder where you get the idea that every business that has banned smoking has seen an increase in customers or business or profits. Far as I am remember there was a bar that opened up with much publicity about being totally smoke free. Seems it wasn't too long until they broke out the ash trays cause they just weren't making the money otherwise.

    Even with that said, it's still a matter of balancing rights with public health. Both are important.

  5. JWT you need to expand your horizons. In every city which has banned tobacco smoking in bars and restaurants these types of business have seen and increase in customers.

    Banning tobacco smoking in a business is no different than regulating the use of banners or electronic signs. No different than telling a restaurant owner he/she it must have a grease trap in it’s kitchen or telling a business it must have a fire exit. No different than telling a bar owner he/she must have indoor plumbing and bathrooms.

    With tobacco smoking we are dealing with the use of a substance which harms the health of human beings.

  6. Banning smoking is much different than regulating (not banning) signs, banners, grease traps, etc.

    You also need to read more studies than just those put out by the anti smoking crowd. In this area, in particular, I have found that the results often depend on who funded the study.

    Pragmatically, if banning smoking really increased business, especially in bars don't you think they would do that on their own. I have never seen a bar owner that didn't want more business. It is not the governments place to put unnecessary restrictions on a business even though there may be some economic benefit. Not the governments place or purpose.

    In closing my horizons are very broad.I have traveled and lived all over the world. I recognize the difference between a legitimate government health policy, and an overreaching power grab targeting a not very popular minority and activity. Please take the time to actually read the proposed ordinance. By their new definitions it would effectively ban candles and gas and charcoal grills. It redefines a public place.

    This is not just about public health.

  7. To reinforce one of my points in my preceding comment consider this:
    "A 2004 study conducted by Ridgewood Economic Associates found that the New York bar and tavern industry suffered 2000 jobs lost at a total loss of $37 million to the state economy. Adding in related businesses raised these totals to 2650 jobs and $71.5 million in lost economic output. Other studies have found similar economic losses in places ranging from California to Maryland to Ontario, Canada."


  8. A short internet search can find articles which point out that the claims of job loses due to tobacco smoking bans are highly exaggerated and don’t stand up to scrutiny. Claims for unemployment benefits by service industry workers such as restaurant and bar workers don’t support the claims of job losses.

  9. A short internet search also shows that claims by both sides tend to be exaggerated. Unemployment claims are not necessarily a reliable indicator in an industry segment where lots of the workforce is part time, "private contractor" or just plain under the table.

    The downturn in liquor and related sales and taxes may be more reliable. The number of businesses that close is an indicator. The indicators are there and still you miss the point.

  10. I did not miss your point. I believe your claims of economic devastation are exaggerated.

    Anyway we will not agree on this issue. I agree with the article in today’s Standard Times.

    I give you the last word.

  11. Never claimed economic devastation would result. Most of the studies used on both sides are cherry picked when economics should not be the final deciding factor.

    The truth is that the proposed ordinance goes way beyond what is needed to protect public health. It goes way beyond what is necessary to achieve its stated goals. Excessive regulations such as this proposal are unnecessarily harmful to the community as a whole.

  12. From Anon; "Every business which has banned smoking has seen an increase in customers".

    I see this repeated, most often without challenge. I have looked into it and most "studies" have an obvious bias. Therefor I go to empirical evidence.

    Are all bar owners stupid? How in God's name do they stay in business operating against their own best interests? Why, if that statement is true could you avoid the obvious profit potential of opening a non-smoking bar, you'd be set for life. Jeez, you'd have to hire someone just to count the money!

    Oops, forgot one minor detail; non-smoking bars very quickly become either smoking bars or former bars. UNLESS they can encourage a legislative body to force the competition to send all the smokers outside.

    Talk to me after you have spent a while in the business; then tell me your beer-joint will be smoke-free.