A taxpayer-funded hospital district is hoping to expand an already existing violation of property rights by extending a previous ill-conceived municipal “smoking ban” to include all public outdoor patios — effectively criminalizing smoking (and vaping) in all public businesses.
The initiative comes from Austin’s Central Health, a publically funded hospital district in Travis County. Central Health’s Communication Director Ted Burton expects the initiative to come before Austin City Council between November and January — pending a councilmember sponsoring the initiative to bring it before council. Once the issue is brought up, it will require 3/4ths of councilmembers’ approval in order to be adopted.
Austin narrowly approved (by a 52% margin) the initial smoking ban back in 2005 — which removed a bar owners’ right to choose whether or not their establishment allowed smoking and imposed a blanket ban of indoor smoking in all public spaces. Adapting to the new regulations, property owners established ‘smoking patios’ to accommodate customers who smoke.
Now, many business owners fear a loss in business with the new initiative.
Much of Austin’s economy (not to mention character) is owed to its function as a live music hotspot, with thousands of unique venues offering both artists and patrons countless ways to experience one of Austin’s most famous offerings. Asher Garber, the former owner of one such venue, Room 710, says his monthly sales dropped an average of $10,000 per month following the ban — which was one factor that led to the ultimate closure of his bar.
Austin is, unfortunately, rapidly losing much of the charm that has defined it. Rising costs of living are driving musicians further and further from the live-music capital, anti-short-term rental policies drive up the cost of temporary lodging, anti-ridesharing regulations are making it more difficult and costly for residents to visit their favorite venues, and now, more nanny-state regulations are poised to further water down much of the Capital City’s edgy night-life character.
This proposal would economically harm many venue hosts, and by extension, the musicians which play them. The City of Austin should not turn its back on the population to which it owes much of its popularity and character in favor of an ill-advised attempt at social engineering.