City Council considers stricter smoking laws

Assistant News Editor

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Jimmy Dagley smokes a cigarette Aug. 27 at Triple Crown.

San Marcos city councilmembers are re-examining a 1995 ordinance that allows smoking in designated public areas after a citizen survey revealed a majority of those polled support stricter regulations.

The possible ordinance could ban smoking in restaurants, bars and other private establishments in San Marcos. The specific details have not yet been determined. Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison gave city councilmembers a presentation during their Aug. 20 meeting concerning public opinion and information on smoking in public. The current ordinance allows smoking in designated areas in bars and restaurants as well as at private functions and bowling league matches. Smoking is explicitly banned around children’s play areas.

In a spring citizen survey, 47 percent of residents polled supported stricter regulations and about 26 percent did not, according to a release from the city. About 21 percent of residents polled said they were neutral on the subject, and five percent said they did not know how they felt, the release said.

In July 2011, 56 percent of San Marcos residents surveyed at public opinion open houses hosted by the city said second-hand smoke was a problem, Jamison said. However, 42 percent of residents polled said second-hand smoke was not a problem, and two percent had no opinion. There were 97 open house attendees, and city councilmembers decided to leave a considered smoking ban ordinance item off the 2011 ballot.

Jamison said a potential ordinance could be based on the no-smoking rulings of Austin and San Antonio. Both cities established all indoor public places and public parks as smoke-free, Jamison said. Neither city has conducted a comprehensive study of the economic effects of the smoking bans, but San Antonio has announced its business conditions have improved, Jamison said.

Councilman Jude Prather, Place 2, said he supports a new anti-smoking ordinance.

“Do you want to infringe on the right of those who want to breathe clean air?” Prather said.

Some members of the city council expressed concern about possible negative effects on businesses due to a smoking ban. Councilman Ryan Thomason, Place 5, said there should be “some kind of outreach to stakeholders in this fight” before the ordinance could be passed.

Councilman Wayne Becak, Place 4, said an all-encompassing ban might have negative consequences because there are “unique” places where people enjoy smoking.

Devin Lopez, a bartender at Zelicks Icehouse, said an anti-smoking ban would probably not affect the establishment’s business because it is a mostly outdoor bar. Lopez said he does not think a ban would “affect us that much” assuming it would only apply to indoor establishments. 

Lopez said he does not think secondhand smoke is a problem at Zelicks because of its outdoor layout and how “good ventilation” circulates the air away from customers. Lopez said he thinks secondhand smoke is a problem in small buildings with little ventilation.

City councilmembers did not specify whether the ban would apply to outdoor establishments. 

Erin Dickson, a bartender at Treffs Tavern, said a smoking ban would affect the bar since around 80 percent of its customers smoke. She said Treffs Tavern opened in 1994, and people have always been allowed to smoke there. Dickson said Treffs is a “different” kind of bar where people smoke, watch TV and hang out all day, and a ban would keep the regulars from enjoying the atmosphere.

Dickson said she thinks secondhand smoke drives a few non-smokers away from the bar but not most of them. She said Treffs now has a non-smoking section for people who want to be out of the smoke’s range.

Dickson said a smoking ban might affect the business, but the customer base is so loyal they would keep coming to Treffs.

Dixon McKaye, an employee at  Triple Crown, said the business is officially against an anti-smoking ordinance.

“We don’t like people coming in and telling us what to do,” McKaye said.

The city council has scheduled a public hearing relating to the new ordinance for Sept. 3.