Groups rally against extended smoking ban in Dallas

A coalition of tavern industry, limited government and smokers’ rights advocates say they’ll battle efforts under way by Dallas politicians and health organizations to expand the city’s public smoking ban to bars and pool halls.

“It’s a small group of people trying to have their utopia at our expense,” said John Barton, manager of tobacco shop Up In Smoke, during a rally Tuesday at Dallas’ Havana Social Club cigar and rum bar. “We’re going to meet this head-on. What’s happening here – this is socialism. This is communism.”

Kathy Grant, a spokeswoman for the Amusement & Music Operators of Texas, called on the Dallas City Council to protect smokers’ right to puff freely in “adult venues without children present.”

Two other organizations – the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Greater Dallas Bar & Tavern Coalition – also went on record opposing an expanded Dallas smoking ban, which today includes most public workplaces and restaurants.

Group representatives say that in coming weeks they intend to gather petition signatures, lobby City Council members and try to convince Dallas residents that current smoking laws strike a fair balance between smokers’ and nonsmokers’ interests.

“The free market will generate nonsmoking bars if there’s demand,” Ms. Grant said. “It’s unfortunate that the government is trying to take away individual freedom. What are they going to do next? Ban alcohol?”

Hardly, said Karen Hoyt-Potasznik, chairwoman of Smoke-Free Dallas, a group of health organizations and medical professionals backing an expanded Dallas smoking ban.

“We also think this is a rights issue – the right of people not to be exposed to secondhand smoke,” Ms. Hoyt-Potasznik said. “This is a public health issue, and it should be predicated by the government to do something about it. That’s their job.”

For these pointed words, Dallas officials haven’t formally proposed an ordinance expansion. As a result, it’s undecided whether any proposal would extend Dallas’ smoking ban simply to bars or also include other publicly accessible facilities such as tobacco shops, cigar clubs or even outdoor city parks.

The first scheduled public discussion of an expanded smoking ban appears weeks away. City Council member Pauline Medrano, chairwoman of the body’s quality of life and government services committee, says she plans to conduct one before her committee in late August or early September.

But Ms. Medrano joins high-profile Dallas council members such as Mayor Tom Leppert, Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway and economic development committee chairman Ron Natinsky as supporters-in-principle of an expanded smoking ban.

At Tuesday’s event, the Amusement & Music Operators of Texas touted the results of a poll of 500 Dallas voters it commissioned that indicate 67 percent favored “allowing bar owners to set the smoking policy of their establishment, as long as they clearly post it at the door.” In June, Smoke-Free Dallas released a poll indicating 71 percent of responding Dallas voters favored expanding Dallas’ smoking laws to “all indoor workplaces, including bars.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, each side on Tuesday questioned the legitimacy and methodology of the other’s survey.

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