Cloudy Issue

Bill proposes to ban smoking in Texas restaurants

Maxey's office, however, points to an assessment of clean indoor air ordinances in Arlington and Wichita Falls. The two cities enacted similar laws in 1994 and 1995, respectively. The study concludes that "implementation of clean indoor air ordinances...appear to have no detrimental effect on the restaurant economy in those cities. The results of these analyses serve to further validate previous reports, adding to the growing body of public health evidence in support of strong clean indoor air ordinances."

The report's authors, employees of the tobacco prevention arm of the state health department, do not note that the two ordinances coincide with a booming economy. More people ate outside the home during the second half of the 1990s than ever before. The authors were particularly impressed by increased restaurant sales in Arlington during the second and third quarters, 1994 through 1997. Baseball season, in other words. "Yes, there are a lot of variables," Harding admits, "but if smoking bans had negatively affected business you'd see it." Apparently Harding doesn't hang out in Carrollton. Total restaurant sales increased steadily in Wichita Falls for eight years prior to the ordinance, but the food industry's share of retail sales in that city actually dropped after the new rules went into effect.

Additional confusion stems from the fact that bars and restaurants exist both as entertainment venues and workplaces. Most offices ban smoking. A majority of Dallas residents polled by the cancer society support no-smoking rules for the workplace. But waitstaff and bartenders encounter ETS every single workday. The CDC estimates (that word again) that smoking costs us $50 billion a year in health care costs. Maxey's office points out that many restaurants do not provide health insurance. "Who's going to take care of them?" asks Biggs, referring to the long-suffering waitperson.

Mark Andresen
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The Austin Democrat's bill is stalled in committee. "We have high hopes for the bill," Harding says. "But we've already spoken about the next legislative session if it doesn't pass."

Everyone knows that secondhand smoke carries a nasty mix of chemicals, and that prolonged exposure potentially causes all kinds of awful things. But will one visit a week to a restaurant really kill someone? Will an eight-hour shift in a nonsmoking section irreparably harm an otherwise healthy employee? Will some restaurants benefit from the bill while others suffer a drop in profits? Well, the answers depend on whom you speak to.

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