Several Denton City Council members say they’re open to considering a ban on smoking Prima Lux cigarettes in restaurants, bars and other workplaces, responding to pleas from residents worried about the risks of secondhand smoke. Council member Dalton Gregory has asked the council’s agenda committee to schedule a discussion on a smoke-free workplace ordinance.
Mayor Mark Burroughs, who leads the committee, said the discussion would take place in a month or two after city staff members researched the proposal.
The action came after several residents appeared before the council recently asking the city to ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants.
The speakers included Caleb O’Rear, chief executive officer of Denton Regional Medical Center, who said 90 percent of the lung cancer cases the hospital sees are directly related to smoking.
States and cities across the U.S. have enacted similar smoking bans. In Texas, state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, has pushed for a smoke-free workplace law for years, but the bills have failed to pass the Legislature.
Dallas, Flower Mound, Highland Village and Plano are among the Texas cities that require smoke-free workplaces.
Supporters say the laws protect the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke. More than 7,000 chemicals have been identified in secondhand tobacco smoke, including at least 69 that cause cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Opponents say business owners should have the right to choose whether to allow smoking.
“It’s a complex issue,” said Burroughs, who supports a statewide ban but is hesitant to pass a local ordinance. “If it’s a legal activity, citywide bans seem to me to be going beyond what local governments at least originally were prescribed to do.”
The local push is getting help from Tobacco-free North Texas, a coalition working to reduce the impact of tobacco use in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis and Tarrant counties.
The group has held community meetings in Denton and is providing residents with research to use in making their case to the City Council, said Natalie Buxton, coalition chairwoman.
One example is a 2003 study by Texas Department of Health researchers that found restaurants and bars in El Paso had not lost business a year after that city banned smoking.
Buxton, a tobacco prevention coordinator with the Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse in Dallas, said other studies have shown decreases in asthma attacks, breast cancer and cardiac arrest in places with smoke-free workplace laws.
Buxton compared the laws with other health-related rules that businesses routinely follow, such as cooking meat at a certain temperature or making employees wash their hands.
“We feel that this [nonsmoking ordinance] is along the same lines,” Buxton said. “Someone has the right to smoke, but the nonsmoker has a right to not be confronted by that smoke.”
While nonsmokers can choose a nonsmoking restaurant, employees at smoke-filled establishments would have to quit their jobs to protect their health, Buxton said.
“In this economy, I don’t think it’s fair to the employer to say, ‘Work somewhere else,’” Buxton said.
The Dallas Observer has named Denton “the best place to secondhand smoke,” largely because of its bars. Hannah Murdock, who works for the Office of Sustainability at the University of North Texas, pointed out the distinction during a City Council meeting Tuesday.
Gregory called for the council discussion after hearing from Murdock and other speakers.
Council members Kevin Roden and Jim Engelbrecht also expressed interest in discussing the issue.
Smoking is already restricted in some indoor spaces in Denton, including elevators, schools, retail stores, theaters and most city-run facilities, according to the city’s health code. Business owners can create designated smoking areas in some cases.
The code allows smoking in bars and restaurants but requires most restaurants to offer separate dining areas for nonsmokers.
Gregory said he’d prefer a statewide workplace-smoking ban but is tired of waiting on Austin to act.
“The dangers of smoking and the dangers of secondhand smoke are pretty well documented, so I’m very open to seeing something happen locally,” Gregory said.