How is it that Denton -- that bastion of forward, liberal thinking; the small town that could; the place where citizens rallied together to defeat big business and ban fracking -- can't seem to pass a definitive smoking ban?
A debate over the subject raged late into the night last week, as the Denton City Council debated the expansion of its restaurant smoking ban it passed in 2012. Some suggested amendments include a banning of electronic cigarettes in bars, the banning of sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, an expansion of the definition of what a patio is (smoking is still allowed on patios), and most surprisingly, a banning of live music in bars that allowed smoking. That last move is one that would effectively cause all bars in Denton, the live music capitol of North Texas, to go non-smoking.
Grandfather clauses would be offered to the few bars (there are less than a dozen in town) who would like to remain smoking establishments, but no new bar would be permitted such a clause, and the clauses could never be transferred, thus effectively ending smoking in Denton bars in the foreseeable future.
Honestly it's time for Denton to join the modern world. Numerous studies have proven the dangers of secondhand smoke, and claims that bans hurt cities financially can be outright laughed at when you look at the fact that the bar scene in Denton is booming, and all the new bars opened in the last few years don't allow indoor smoking.
Some might argue over the ban of electronic cigarettes (vapor shop owners in Denton have done so) due to the alleged health benefits of switching to vapor over smoke. But the fact is we don't know exactly what's in these vapor mixes, and studies have proven inconclusive as to whether they are actually a safer alternative to cigarettes.
The city of El Paso kicked off the no-smoking trend in Texas way back in 2002, with many cities following suit with either full, or partial bans. More often than not a partial ban eventually becomes a full ban, as studies show people prefer the non-smoking establishments, and the health risks encountered by the employees and patrons of the business that still allow smoking
Denton's two premier music venues, Dan's Silverleaf, and Rubber Gloves, were early adopters of the smoking ban. Those moves were applauded by the local community and, by all accounts, business is going well for both establishments -- thus proving that willingly opting into the ban isn't a financial blow, and may even be a means of gaining new business. Anyone looking for an example of a community that's thriving in the wake of a smoking ban needs to look no further than the growth Deep Ellum is experiencing; Dallas enacted its smoking ban in 2009.
Andy's Bar is one of the bars still keen to resist the smoking ban. However one of its employees, local musician Christopher Walker, is himself an outspoken proponent for the smoking ban because of the health issues involved. "I'm pro-extended smoking ban because I'm pro-my own personal health and the health of my fellow employees," Walker says. "I've started to become vulnerable to upper respiratory illness in ways I had never previously and that's ridiculous."
Walker further explains that working at a venue that allows smoking has had negative effects on the types of shows he's been able to bring in: "There are reputable musicians that I can't book and entire crowds I can't get through the door because of the smoky environment we deal with," he says.
Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden is one of the smoking ban's largest champions, and the councilman responsible for many of the of the suggested amendments to the bill -- many of which have caused mass confusion in Denton. One of those proposals is the grandfathering concept, which Walker is also leery of. "If grandfathering does get left in with a clause that music can't be in smoking bars, then I do fear that will give some owners the push to reformat their venues," he speculates.
The grandfather clause is a compromise for the strident anti-ban supporters, and the live music ban is more a ban on smoking during the playing of music. The issue will be further explored by the Denton City Council at their next meeting on Tuesday where the hope is the matter will finally be settled. Regardless, banning smoking in local bars is an important step forward for Denton, and hopefully that central point isn't lost as they hash out the particulars of how to make that happen.
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For further clarification, we reached out to Roden. Read his response after the break:
Here's an issue where there was little middle ground: Both sides rather polarized into camps of "you are giving me cancer" or "you are taking away my constitutional rights." Both have good points. I've always been convinced that we need to move our city forward in the direction of making all of our indoor areas open to the public smoke free. We moved a bit in that direction in 2012. We have the opportunity to move us further in that direction now.
It is important to note that we likely had the votes to pass a full ban and make it effective immediately. I was sensitive to the plight of existing businesses and wanted to find a way that could allow us to ease into this in a way that ultimately got us to the goal without unnecessarily financially burdening business owners. That could come in two ways: 1) setting an effective date for all existing bars; or 2) actually grandfathering all existing smoking bars (until they go out of business).
Given the polarization of the topic, I wanted to find a way to reach broader consensus. I see a big part of my role as not just trying to fight for my side but seeking a way to build consensus, where possible. If you "do the right thing" but half the town is pissed at government as a result, that's important to consider.
While I preferred setting a date when everyone goes non-smoking, I thought we had a chance of getting everyone behind the grandfathering option. To do so, I also wanted to place some regs on those bars that choose to stay grandfathered -- if for no other reason so as to offer an incentive to voluntarily choose non-smoking.
The live music concept was one actually floated by another council member earlier in the evening. The idea being (and we had several folks claim to represent themselves as musicians or in the music industry that night advocating for a ban) bringing musicians into a smoking bar furthered the "workers rights" argument.
At the end of the day, it was about 1:30 a.m., my motion had about 20 points to it, and my words were clumsy. We always banter a bit with such discussions up there to wordsmith things. What would have been a better suggestion was to suggest that smoking bars had to go non-smoking for the time of which they had live music -- NOT that live music should be banned from bars. That was the spirit.
And, also, it should be noted that, within about two minutes of making that suggestion, I offered to take it out entirely in order to get to the point of consensus on the council. Again, this was all in the spirit of compromise and we were having a dialogue.
We are visiting this again and I PROMISE NOT TO BAN LIVE MUSIC ANYWHERE IN DENTON!
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