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Smoke alarm

City Council has returned from summer camp (What? You didn’t notice they were gone?), which means the smoking-ban debate is back on the front burner, beginning with Monday’s Quality of Life Committee meeting, where some of our least intellectually aggressive council members will review the latest iteration of the proposed ordinance before it heads to the full Council later this month.

As it’s currently envisioned, the expanded ordinance would outlaw smoking in almost all social venues — the exceptions being existing private clubs such as Club Giraud and VFW halls, and retail tobacco stores like Club Humidor. Lighting up would also be verboten in some of our most cherished public areas, such as Alamo Plaza and the River Walk. Added to the list: all City-owned parks where smoking is currently allowed. Possible overreaching: No smoking at VIA bus stops or in public lines, e.g. for the ATM machine or those Cornyation tickets. (Can we still get a last smoke before the firing squad?)

Assistant City Manager Sharon de la Garza reminded us that the Mayor and Councilman Justin Rodriguez’s goal is for SA to be recognized as an officially smoke-free city. To attain that status, the City must pass an ordinance that protects non-smokers from secondhand smoke — which contains 11 known human carcinogens and kills some 50,000 peeps a year — in virtually all restaurants and bars in addition to the municipal and private worksites already covered. That means Councilman John Clamp’s plea that they carve out an exception for small-business bar and/or restaurant owners will likely fall on deaf ears.

However, a likely impediment to Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros’s District 1 vote could be conceded without undermining the City’s smoke-free status: the proposed ban on smoking on the River Walk — a provision restaurants on the banks fear will drive customers to nearby restaurants where they could still smoke on the patios.

Clamp has been the most vocal opponent of expanding the current smoking ordinance. “My main focus is too much government intervention in a small business-person’s life,” he said. “We may be trying to save the health of the worker … but at the same time, if we kill a small business, those jobs go away.” `Equating jobs with lives = math the QueQue was never good at.`

Clamp would also prefer to see any new rules phased in over time, but he concedes that he may not have the upper bargaining hand.

“I think `the Mayor’s` got the votes right now — probably,” Clamp said, although he’s not feeling any particular pressure from his District 10 constituents yet. “They’ll let me know when the time comes. If I vote yes, you’ll know what happened.”

District 9 Council Member Elisa Chan is another free-market holdout. Policy Chief Tom Marks says they are waiting to see what the proposal looks like when it hits Quality of Life next week, but the Councilwoman, while acknowledging the health implications of secondhand smoke, also remains concerned about the impact on small businesses. Marks says he “seriously doubts” the studies that argue smoking bans can actually improve the bottom line. “You can always cook the books,” said Marks, who studied statistics in grad school. “When it was helped, what was the cost-per-drink increase?” Like Clamp, Marks said he personally objects to more government intrusion, and he takes special exception to the argument that the ban is necessary to protect the health of employees who work at smoking establishments.

“Let’s just shut down every coal mine, then, every refinery,” he said. Yes, let’s! replied the QueQue, before we realized he didn’t mean it.

We’d love to tell you what the bans’ outspoken Council proponents are thinking as the potential ordinance heads into the final stretch, but Rodriguez and the Mayor hadn’t returned calls by press time. The Quality of Life Committee will take up the ordinance at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, August 9, in Municipal Plaza Conference Room B.

`Current Editor Elaine Wolff discussed the proposed ban Monday on Texas Public Radio’s The Source with host Terry Gildea and the Express-News’ Josh Baugh. Listen at tpr.org.`


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