Smoking ban: Proposal in Legislature is tied to spending bill
Publication Date: 2011-05-24
- Author:Jim Vertuno
After years of losing efforts to ban smoking in Texas public places, supporters may have found their winning move.
In a legislative session dominated by searing debates over a strained state budget, a provision banning smoking in most bars and restaurants has been tucked neatly into a critical spending bill.
Previous sessions have seen proposed bans beaten down by arguments favoring the rights of business owners and smokers to not have the government meddling in their private affairs.
Now supporters of the ban are counting on a promise that cutting down on smoking will save the state tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars spent treating patients with smoking-related diseases, to turn in their favor.
"The worst health hazard in America today is tobacco use," Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a fitness expert and aerobic exercise pioneer, said Monday. "It embarrasses me that we have not been able to pass this bill."
According to a legislative analysis, at least 29 states have adopted smoke-free laws and several more are considering them this year. More than 30 Texas cities have comprehensive smoke-free ordinances covering public workplaces and facilities with a patchwork of other regulations across the state.
Supporters have tried in the past to draft celebrities such as former professional cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong to boost their cause. But arguments that secondhand smoke kills more than 50,000 people nationwide every year were overrun by concerns over personal and property rights in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The issue again seemed to be going nowhere until late last Friday night when the House voted 73-66 to put the ban into the spending bill. The amendment caused fierce debate among Republicans in that chamber and some angry words when one lawmaker jokingly tried to include a ban on perfumes and colognes.
While the original bill would have banned smoking in just about all workplaces, the provision now bans smoking in places licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and by state and local health departments. Exceptions are made for charitable bingo halls in small counties, veteran social halls, pool halls and tobacco bars.
The House sponsor, Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Houston, estimated the ban could save the state about $30 million a year in Medicaid costs treating patients of smoking related problems such as cancer, heart disease and low-birthweight babies.
Melinda Little of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said those numbers are low and predicted the savings could easily be "in hundreds of millions."
"Heart attacks, respiratory problems, cancer, pregnancy problems. Smoking impacts so many things," Little said.
The budget impact gives the provision its best chance to survive but doesn't guarantee it.
The session ends May 30. House and Senate leaders have said passing the fiscal bill is necessary to be able to write the final state budget and avoid a special session.