Lighting up in bars, restaurants or other workplaces across Texas will be a way of the past if state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, gets her way. Crownover has again introduced a bill that would prohibit smoking in indoor areas of most businesses, health care facilities and sporting venues. Smoking would still be allowed, though, at outdoor venues like patios.
Although she believes in limited government, Crownover said it is unacceptable that 53,000 people die each year in the U.S. from secondhand smoke.
“I think this is the most important public health issue before the Legislature at this time,” she said. Banning indoor smoking, she said, would benefit both customers and employees.
The bill would also create a level playing field for business across the state with a uniform statewide policy instead of the hodgepodge of city regulations that exist now, Crownover said. And people who choose to smoke would still be able to do so outside, she said.
Dr. Joel Dunnington, speaking for the American Cancer Society, told the House Public Health Committee the smoking ban would save $440 million to the state's economy biennially because most bar and restaurant employees don't have health insurance. When those employees get sick, they end up going to public hospitals, where often the cost is passed on to taxpayers.
The Legislative Budget Board estimates the savings would be a bit more modest: $31 million over the next biennium.
Government already regulates things like asbestos in schools and salmonella in food, so regulating tobacco in the workplace shouldn't be any different, Dunnington reasoned.
Boyer Derise, chef partner of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Austin, said health concerns for employees and customers are part of the reason his restaurant is smoke-free, and that the policy has not hurt his bottom line.
But Philip Robert Brinson, lawyer for Fast Eddie’s Billiards, said the smoke ban would drive away customers and jeopardize the pool hall chain's entire operation.
“Unless absolutely necessary government should not seek to impose undue hardships, mandates and restrictions on private businesses, especially in hard times,” Brinson said.
The committee did not vote on the bill but will continue hearing testimony when it reconvenes after the House adjourns.