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News Summary

Texas House attempts new public smoking ban

Publication Date: 6/5/2011
  • Author:GARY SCHARRER
  • Publication:Houston (TX) Chronicle

Banning smoking in public places may save $30 million a year in Medicaid costs and more than $200 million a year in overall health care expenses, experts told a Texas legislative committee Saturday.

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.

She has been pushing the smoke-free plan for six years. Nearly 30 other states have smoke-free laws in place.

"We don't want to come back in two years and be the ashtray of the United States," Crownover said.

Public places affected

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.

Fast Eddie's revenues from a Beaumont pool hall have dropped 50 percent since the city adopted an indoor smoking ban two years ago, Brinson said.

The company cares about its employees, but second- hand smoke is not a major factor because "they actually smoke themselves, for the most part," he said.

And it's not possible to ask customers go outside to smoke, he explained "because we charge by the hour."

"Drinking, smoking and playing pool are legal," Brinson said.

Senate support sought

He found a receptive vote in Rep. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, an orthopedic surgeon, who was the only committee member opposing the smoking ban.

However, the entire medical community and health care groups support the ban.

Smoking and secondhand smoke kill more Texans than HIV/AIDS, crack cocaine heroine, alcohol, car accidents, fire, murder and suicide combined, Dr. Philip Huang told the committee.

"And, it's entirely preventable," said Huang, medical director for Travis County, who represented the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Parent Teachers Association and health-related groups, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Campaign for Smoke Free Kids and others.

The House already has passed an indoor smoking ban in previous efforts only to see them rejected by the Texas Senate.

It will be up to the Senate to pass it this time, Crownover said, before she advances the measure to the full House.

The $30 million in Medicaid savings alone each year would provide CHIP health insurance coverage for 10,000 children, she said, or 421 nursing home beds.