After conceding to two key demands made by opponents, the City Council Tuesday extended the city’s smoking ban to include nightclubs, adult businesses, pool halls and bowling centers.
The vote was 7-2 and occurred, as it has the past two council meetings, before a full house of more than 100 backers and opponents of the proposed smoking ordinance amendment.
But the major development occurred during the afternoon work session, when Councilwoman Victoria Farrar-Myers, who spent a week visiting frustrated bar owners, recommended compromising on the proposed extension of the mandatory 50-foot separation of smokers from a building’s working doors and windows. She suggested 15 feet — and applying it only to the primary entrance of an establishment.
Many among the throngs that overfilled the council chambers at the two previous meetings pleaded that — short of rejecting the entire amendment — at least reducing that buffer so that the thousands of dollars that some spent building patios to meet current smoking regulations wouldn’t be wasted.
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One owner said the 50-foot mandate would put her smoking customers “in the middle of Division Street.”
“We want to make sure we protect the public health, and that’s a high priority for me,” Farrar-Myers said after the work session. “But I also want to be fair in how we approach achieving that.”
Farrar-Myers also recommended scrapping the city’s plan to exercise its regulatory authority over e-cigarettes, preferring to wait until the Food and Drug Administration finishes studying the health effects of the devices. That pleased the several vaping store owners who have complained to the council.
With the approved smoking ban, Arlington joins 70 other Texas cities designated as a “100 Percent Smoke-Free City” by the anti-smoking advocate Smoke-Free Texas, based on criteria from the World Health Organization.
Farrar-Myers researched and assured council members at the work session that none of her recommendations would jeopardize that honor.
At the evening meeting, supporters of the smoking ban went first to the lectern. Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, said cities that have adopted similar comprehensive smoking ordinances have seen, on average, a 15 percent decrease in heart attack hospitalizations and a 16 percent decline in stroke hospitalizations.
At Arlington hospitals in 2015, there were 1,035 lung-cancer-related visits and 7,313 visits of heart disease patients — at a cost of $380 million, Love said.
“The people of Arlington deserve to breathe smoke-free air,” he said.
Opponents criticized the fines — $2,000 per violation — in the ordinance, questioned the supporters’ health statistics and urged the council let voters decide the issue in a referendum. Many worried that a smoking ban would cost jobs.
Tanya Mueller said she worked as a waitress at a Click’s Billiards in Tempe, Ariz., that closed within a year after similar smoking regulations were enacted. She now works at Speed’s Billiards in Arlington and she said she worries about getting laid off.
“The prospect of losing my job as a woman in my 40s with three children is terrifying to me,” she said.
Bar owner Shonna Reiter sparked some bipartisan laughter when she suggested that there are bigger health concerns than smoking.
“Look at the obesity around this room,” she said. “Is that caused by smoking or McDonald’s?”
Councilmen Charlie Parker and Robert Rivera voted against the ban.
“I firmly believe this is a property rights issue,” Parker said.
The council’s previous meetings were just as spirited.
A divided council approved the amendment April 11 on the first of two required readings, after exempting bingo parlors to assuage some concerns on the council and in the overflow audience about the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable fundraising by nonprofits. That vote was 6 to 3.
At another packed meeting on April 25, where opponents outnumbered backers 83-34, the council voted 9-0 to postpone the second and final reading.
The new regulations will take effect in late May, officials estimated.
Cities can be eligible for the “100 Percent Smoke-Free City” designation and not literally ban smoking everywhere they have the authority. Arlington’s 50-foot smoking buffer remains in effect for other businesses and applies to swimming pools, playgrounds and other public park amenities, for example.
The council excluded bingo parlors from the amendment in part because that wouldn’t jeopardize the city’s smoke-free designation.
Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive smoke-free regulations that cover all indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars, according to the National Healthcare Institute.
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. Some Arlington business owners worry that their smoking customers wouldn’t have far to go to find another place to light up.
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 any 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 ordinance has been amended several times since.