Smoking in bars, restaurants and other enclosed public spaces will be illegal after Jan. 1 under an ordinance the Waco City Council approved Tuesday.
The council made some minor tweaks to the ordinance on second reading to ease the burden on businesses that want to create a smoking patio or allow on-site sampling of e-cigarettes.
The ordinance, which also limits smoking in parks to small dedicated areas, passed 5-1, with Councilman John Kinnaird dissenting.
Local advocates for the ban called it a win for the health of employees and customers.
The current smoking ordinance, adopted in 2009, exempted existing bars and allowed walled-off, separately ventilated smoking rooms in restaurants and other businesses. But medical leaders and other advocates with the Smoke-Free Waco Coalition said the smoking-room provision created a false sense of security for restaurant patrons.
“We know based on what the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) says that there is no technology that can clean the air in a non-smoking section of a restaurant that has a smoking section,” said Dr. Bradford Holland, an ear, nose and throat physician and former McLennan County Medical Society president.
He said the “non-smoking” sections were a “public ruse” that allow unwary families to expose their children to secondhand smoke.
“When they do this, we perpetuate the myth that the current system sells, the myth that this is safe,” he said.
Other speakers blasted the new law as a government intrusion on decisions best left to customers and business owners.
Doug Enhelder, owner of Geneva’s Place Sports Bar, 2824 N. 18th St., asked the council to put the ban to the voters as a referendum.
“This would totally destroy my business,” he said. “It’s going to send my customers to Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview, where they’re allowed to smoke.”
Councilman Kinnaird did not reiterate his reasons for voting against the ban, but at the first reading July 7, he said it went too far in interfering with the rights of businesses.
Peaches Henry, a college instructor and president of the local NAACP, said the rights of employees to work in a healthy environment should outweigh other considerations.
“Food service workers are significantly less protected than others” from respiratory illnesses caused by secondhand smoke, she said.
“Such workers do not have a choice where they work or how they’re exposed to secondhand smoke,” she said. “This will ensure that all workers are treated equally under the law.”
Changes to ordinance
To placate business owners, the council made it easier to smoke in front of business establishments or on smoking patios. The new ordinance will allow smoking within 15 feet of a business’s front door, down from 20 now, and there will be no distance requirements from doors leading to outdoor patios.
Sammy Citrano, owner of George’s Restaurant and Bar, one of a handful of restaurants that has a smoking section, attended the meeting but did not speak. In an interview after the meeting, he said the distance requirement change will allow him to build an outdoor patio at his popular restaurant on Speight Avenue.
“The council has spoken,” he said. “I just hope that this law stays as it is and doesn’t change again.”
The ordinance exempts hookah and cigar lounges as well as retail tobacco and e-cigarette vapor shops.
A version of the ordinance earlier this month would have required specially ventilated rooms for smoking or “vaping” in such shops, raising the hackles of vapor shop owners.
Shawn Burke of Cloud Chasers vape shop said building such a room would cost him some $10,000. He said the only people who come to his shop are e-cigarette customers, and a vaping room wouldn’t protect anyone from anything.
“To spend that kind of money for a clientele that doesn’t exist, it’s beyond me,” he said. “You’re going to kill the business of small shops.”
At the urging of Councilman Kyle Deaver, the council amended the ordinance to eliminate the requirement for ventilating smoke and vapor shops.
Fines under the ordinance for both individuals and businesses in violation of the law range from $50 for a first offense up to $500 for multiple offenses.