Businesses react to stricter city smoking ordinance

Assistant News Editor

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Smoking on city-owned or leased property has been stamped out by a city ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1, a decision that has been divisive among some local business owners.

The smoking ban, which was adopted by councilmembers in October, prohibits smoking inside all city facilities, outdoor city parks, athletic facilities and grounds. The ban includes tobacco products, e-cigarettes and other inhaled vapor devices. The ban will extend to cover public places and places of employment beginning June 1.

According to a Jan. 1 University Star article, the “public places” defined in the ordinance include banks, bars, restaurants, bingo halls, indoor music venues, convention facilities, schools, health care facilities, retail stores, theaters, malls, sports arenas, waiting rooms and workplaces.

Councilman Wayne Becak, Place 4, said the only difficulty he had with the smoking ban was from a standpoint of property rights.

“If a business allows smoking, and smoking’s legal, from that standpoint, I’d like to see a business if they want to allow smoking, allow smoking.”

For people who still wish to smoke, they can walk outside to a business’ patio, which is a good compromise, Becak said.

Properties with permits to build outdoor smoking areas will have until Jan. 1, 2015 to go smoke-free inside and build an outdoor smoking area. Becak said he has not yet heard of any businesses that have applied for a permit to build an outdoor patio for a designated smoking area.

David Alexander, Taproom Pub & Grill general manager, said the establishment is not planning on applying for a permit. Alexander said he does not think the smoking ban will affect business at all. The Taproom already started enforcing the smoking ban on Jan. 1 so customers could get used to the change, he said.

“We have a lot of people, even smokers, who prefer not to smoke indoors, so a lot of them really haven’t complained,” Alexander said. “I think a lot of people knew it was coming and expected it.”

There have been about two people who were upset about the ban so far at the Taproom, Alexander said.

While some businesses have not experienced negative effects from the ban, some local business owners do not like the changes approved by city council.

 Johnny Finch, owner of Chances R, said he is against the smoking ban because it affects business at his bar and believes if someone wants to go to an establishment that does not allow smoking, they can choose to go elsewhere.

“Nothing that restricts the freedom to act ever helps anyone’s business,” Finch said.

Chances R is planning on applying for a permit to build an outdoor smoking area, Finch said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the smoking ban, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a time requirement,” Finch said.

“Anytime the government restricts your ability to run your business like you want, it doesn’t help it—it’s a detrimental effect.”

It should be up to the individual to decide whether to smoke or not, not the government, Finch said.

“I remember when (city council) tried to run a ban on us back in 2001, 2002—all of the bars rose up and we fought the ban and we beat it,” Finch said. “But this time it was not that way, a lot of the bars just rolled over and played dead.”

According to a Nov. 20 University Star article, the ordinance was unanimously amended by city councilmembers Nov. 19 to exempt vape shops. The ban also exempts retail tobacco stores and designated outdoor areas of bars and restaurants.

Lisa Ray, owner of Vape Shop San Marcos LLC and Bobcat Vaporz & Kava Bar, said her shops have seen an increase in sales of e-cigarettes and vaping products since the ban went into effect. She said this may be due to the increased awareness of the issue with news of the smoking ban, Ray said.

“With (e-cigarettes) being in the news as much as they have been, it prompts people’s curiosity to come see what they’re about too,” Ray said.