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Councilman Rodriguez drafting smoking ban

District 7 Councilman Justin Rodriguez wants to close most of the remaining loopholes in the City's 2003 smoking ban, making it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants that are currently exempted by the code. He told the QueQue Tuesday that the Mayor had committed to the project and he could have a five-signature memo filed as early as tomorrow. We'll have details for you asap.

"It's a public-health issue," Rodriguez said, citing both the "additional adverse effects" of smoking while drinking, and the long-term consequences for employees who work in smoking establishments. As for the argument that those workers can choose to earn their wages somewhere else: "Well, sometimes that's just not the reality; sometimes those are the only jobs people can get, especially right now."

Rodriguez said he hadn't yet spoken with representatives of the restaurant industry, but he had heard they would be amenable to tightening the regulations if Council is flexible about continuing to allow outdoor designated areas. He expects the biggest resistance to come from bars, and mentioned the possibility of continuing to exempt cigar bars.

Rodriguez cited cities such as New York and Houston that have instituted broad bans as evidence that it won't kill the local food-and-drink industry. "I think the gut reaction is, we're going down the tubes," he said, "but that was part of the sky is falling argument in 2003.

"I don't think we're going to see ultra lounges opening in Schertz because you can't smoke in San Antonio."

Yolanda Arellano, executive metro director for the San Antonio Restaurant Association, disagrees. "Everybody has to be on the same plane," she said, listing some of SA's many embedded and adjacent incorporated townships. To that end, she says, SARA has been working with the organization's Texas parent chapter to lobby for a statewide ban.

"If you're going to do it at the city level, at least help us out and not give other cities the advantage," she added. "Are they talking to `nearby cities`, or are they just talking to San Antonio?" (She doesn't know offhand which of our many sibling cities has smoking bans, if any.)

Arellano says she's meeting with Rodriguez on April 27. Among the worries it sounds like she'll be conveying: It's a tough time for an industry that runs on 3-4 percent margins and is still suffering through the lingering effects of the recession.

"It's not like we're not concerned," she said. "Of course we want healthy customers."

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