The pros, cons, and economic impact of smoking bans have recently taken the stage in McAllen as it’s the latest city in the Valley to pass a smoking ban ordinance that further limits local businesses from allowing their customers to smoke within their vicinity.
Smoking bans expand the size of government by infringing on individual liberty and the free market here in Texas by directing how businesses should operate.
Smoking ban efforts in McAllen have been promulgated since 2005 but have failed due to negative response from the restaurant industry. In August, McAllen took up the issue but business owners were granted a reprieve as city council considered the effect Mexican tourism has at non-smoking establishments. In August, a weakened smoking-ban was passed, prohibiting smoking in all public buildings except tobacco shops, private clubs, and bars where alcohol accounts for 70 percent of sales.
On October 23, McAllen City Council voted 4-2 to adopt a “comprehensive smoking ordinance” whereby McAllen became the 84th city in Texas to pass such a measure. In their efforts to make McAllen a “healthier place” to live, city council voted to “improve and protect the public’s health by eliminating smoking in public places and places of employment, guarantee to the right to nonsmokers to breathe smoke-free air, and recognize that the need to breathe smoke-free air shall have priority over the choice to smoke.”
Last week, anti-smoking advocates packed the room at city hall. Commissioner John Ingram was alone in refuting the ban for its disregarded of liberty principles.
“People have a right to liberty and to live a life they want to.” Ingram then questioned the council, “Why are we prohibiting it from bars?”
One business owner testified about his failure to receive a notice from the city concerning the new proposed changes and cited the effects this ban would have on several of his nightclubs on 17th Street. For locals, 17th Street is a nightlife district in downtown McAllen filled with bars/clubs, similar to Austin’s 6th Street. For someone to step outside to have a cigarette, “is seven minutes they aren’t buying a drink,” he stated.
Smoking in city parks was also given consideration where the city currently prohibits smoking in parks only during school hours. Commissioner Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora scrutinized the proposed ordinance calling for a ban on public-smoking across the board, including bingo halls, whereas Mayor Darling recommended that bingo halls be exempted from the law. Other exemptions include, “golf courses between the tee of the first hole and the green of the final hole,” cigar bars with over 40% of revenue from tobacco-related products, retail tobacco stores, as well as private residences.
According to the new ordinance, smoking is prohibited at libraries, museums, restaurants, bars, public and private schools, hotels/motels, sport arenas, convention halls, adult day care facilities, city-owned facilities, polling locations, public transportation areas, parks, playgrounds, outdoor/indoor flea markets. In addition, smoking is prohibited within a distance of ten feet from outside entrances.
Violations include a Class C Misdemeanor punishable up to $500 in fines.
The ordinance will likely go into effect on January 1, 2018.