A divided City Council voted on Tuesday to extend the city’s workplace smoking ban after making a last-minute exception for bingo halls.
In the first of two required readings, the council tentatively approved extending no-smoking regulations to include nightclubs, bowling centers, billiard halls, sexually-oriented businesses and other workplaces that now allow smoking under an exemption.
The council’s late exemption for bingo parlors was in part swayed by their contribution to charities but also because of a legal distinction from the other businesses.
With the added smoking restrictions, Arlington would be designated a “100% Smoke Free City,” a benchmark based on World Health Organization criteria that has been earned by about 70 Texas cities with a total population of 10.5 million residents, according to the anti-smoking coalition Smoke-Free Texas.
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As gaming establishments, bingo parlors can be excluded from the smoking ban and not jeopardize the city’s smoke-free designation.
After hearing from 26 speakers on both sides of the debate, the council voted 6-3 for the bingo exemption.
Mayor Jeff Williams and council members Charlie Parker, Michael Glaspie, Robert Rivera and Victoria Farrar-Myers voted in favor. Councilwomen Sheri Capehart, Kathryn Wilemon and Lana Wolff voted against, saying they didn’t want to weaken the ban by excluding bingo parlors.
The city would also regulate electronic cigarettes for the first time, treating them the same as their tobacco counterparts.
The second and final vote on the regulations could come at the council’s next meeting on April 25.
The issue drew an overflow crowd to the council chamber, with 93 speakers and nonspeakers about evenly divided between supporters and opponents. Supporters went first, citing studies that show the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke and research indicating that similar restrictions in other cities did not appear to harm businesses.
“No Arlington worker would have to be subjected to secondhand smoke and its health consequences just to earn a paycheck,” said Holly Heid, a nurse practitioner.
Donna Darovich, president of MPAC, a political action committee of about 50 women, said the issue is not only about health but about “living up to what we know as Arlington’s reputation as a safe, innovative and progressive community.”
The opponents included the Arlington Lions Club, Knights of Columbus and other organizations, whose use of bingo parlors raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for charities, and bingo and pool hall owners who said banning smoking likely would financial strap or close businesses.
“A huge number of our clientele are smokers, and I fear these customers would go find another bar in another city a couple of miles down the road,” said Kurt Wadsworth, manager of Clicks Billiards in Arlington, adding it would “break my heart” to have to cut employees’ work hours or lay them off.
Thomas Martin, president of the Arlington Lions Club, said his organization is among 10 that use a bingo parlor on Pioneer Parkway, raising a combined $530,000 over the past year to divide evenly among their charitable causes. He said that if council members are confident the targeted businesses would survive, they should back it up with “insurance.”
“If you’re not willing to put your wallet behind it, it says you have no confidence whatsoever,” Martin said.
Councilman Parker also questioned the survivability of those businesses in a suddenly smoke-free environment.
“I think we are going to see real people lose real paychecks,” Parker said during a brief council deliberation. “I think we’re going to see organizations who are not going to be able to raise funds for charity, and we’re going to see closures.”
When it became clear how the vote would play out, Mayor Jeff Williams remarked, “No one here doesn’t care about the money raised to help our nonprofits. But let’s not let this issue divide us. This is a big step we have just taken in our community.”
The North Texas cities with the smoke-free designation include Dallas, Southlake, Benbrook, Flower Mound, Little Elm, Denton, Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Mesquite.
The cities that border Arlington — Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Mansfield, Kennedale, Pantego and Dalworthington Gardens — are not yet eligible for the designation.
Also, 31 cities in the state have begun restricting e-cigarettes in the wake of the Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to extend its regulatory authority over those devices.
Currently, the city restricts smoking in places including schools, libraries, museums, healthcare facilities, elevators, transit system buses, public restrooms, nursing homes, places of public assembly, service lines, retail and service establishments, theaters and auditoriums, as well as ny workplaces where smoking is banned by the owners.
The ordinance, first adopted in 1987, was amended in 1991 to restrict smoking at restaurants, which most agree was not the setback for the restaurant industry that many at the time had feared.
The smoke-free designation allows certain other exemptions from smoking regulations, and those are incorporated into the city ordinance, which exempts fraternal organizations, private club areas of Globe Life Park, retail cigarette and e-cigarette shops and cigar bars, and outdoor areas at least 50 feet from a building’s working doors and windows and from swimming pools, playgrounds and other amenities of city parks.