Fort Worth Council discusses expanding smoking ordinance

With the new smoking ordinance going into effect Monday, March 12, adjusting rules for smoking indoors, the Fort Worth City Council discussed the possibility of outdoor ordinances at Tuesday’s work session.

Though no official decision was reached, council members received a briefing from Co-Compliance Director Brandon Bennett during the work session.

“We’ve already sent education material out to bars, restaurants, anyone who would be impacted (by the new ordinance),” Bennett said, then turning his attention to outdoor smoking.

“There is no safe tobacco. It doesn’t matter if you light it, chew it, eat it, it is not good for you,” he said, noting that annually 14.5 million people die or become ill because of tobacco products.

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Bennett stressed that the most dangerous form of second hand smoke is indoors in close proximity, which the city has already addressed. However, he said while outdoor second-hand smoke is a lower risk, “There are still some situations where it’s a higher risk.”

For example, he said if someone is 50 feet from someone smoking, but the non-smoker has asthma, that is close enough to create difficulty breathing.

He also cited statistics that show around 45 percent of Americans smoked in 1965 compared to 15 percent now. Also, he noted that in the late 1980s, 88 percent of non-smokers had some measure of exposure rate to second-hand smoke compared to 25 percent in the latest study (2012). He said self policing has played a big role in this adjustment.

“What you see more and more is when somebody goes to light up a cigarette the move away from the non-smokers,” he said.

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Bennett said Fort Worth is the only benchmark city in the state that allows smoking in its parks. San Antonio prohibits in pavilions and playgrounds; Arlington prohibits in pavilions, playgrounds and other outdoor venues; while Dallas, El Paso, Austin and Houston fully prohibit smoking in parks – with Dallas and Austin excluding golf courses.

“A good policy would be to do what many of the cities have done and say no smoking in a city park,” Bennett said.

He added that smoking on a public sidewalk is not a pressing public health concern. District 4 Council Member Cary Moon, disagreed, however, saying that when people leave an establishment to smoke outdoors, they will likely go to the sidewalk, especially if smoking is banned in parks.

“People may not have a choice to navigate around,” Moon said. “We’re creating a nuisance with our ordinance, and this is what I’m trying to get around. For the properties we own we should have the same rules we ask private business owners to comply with.”

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Senior Assistant City Attorney Christa Reynolds said no ordinance could be put in place for all sidewalks because the city does not own them all. Moon argued that the city’s panhandling ordinance regulates sidewalk activity.

“We control behaviors all the time on private property,” he said.

Reynolds said there are some sidewalks the city owns where they could place smoking regulations, such as in front of the library. She said the Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of smoking allow for more enforcement indoors.

Bennett recommended:

*Prohibiting smoking in all areas of a city park, except for outdoor areas of golf courses and the Will Rogers Complex.

*Allowing the parks director to create rules to permit smoking in segregated areas of parks, subject to objective rules. Example, Concerts in the Garden.

*Not regulating smoking on public sidewalks beyond what’s already on the books.

While Mayor Betsy Price said she understood the recommendation for parks, she disagreed with Moon, saying, “I’m not a big fan of ordinances and regulations you can’t enforce. You cannot regulate sidewalk smoking. It’s going to be really hard to regulate park smoking. Is that where we want to be if we’re a city that’s promoting tourism and additional business movement?”

Though no action was taken, the mayor asked staff to look deeper at the recommendations for more discussion at a later date.

The ordinance that becomes effective March 12 prohibits smoking in bars and bingo parlors. Also, retail smoke shops will be prohibited within 300 feet of schools, universities and hospitals.

Also, establishment threshholds are set for cigarette, tobacco and related product sales of 90 percent gross annual sales for retail smoke shops and 30 percent of gross annual sales for cigar lounges.

Other new or revised definitions include:

*Electronic Smoking Device: included to address e-cigs and to be consistent with smoke-free cities.

*Private clubs: revised to be consistent with smoke-free cities.

*Smoking: amended to include electronic smoking devices.

*Cigar Lounge: included to distinguish between a retail smoke shop and allow for onsite alcohol consumption.

Clarifications include:

*Allow retail smoke shops and cigar lounges to provide for an air ventilation system as an alternative to being a stand-alone facility.

*Smoking is still allowed in outdoor dining areas and patios, provided the area smoking is permitted in is 20 feet away from entrances and exits.

The council voted 8-1 to approve those changes. The lone no vote was Moon, calling it “bad governance” and asking his fellow council members to look into implementing a policy that includes public property such as sidewalks, parks and children in the back seats of cars with the driver smoking.

This is the first change to the city’s smoking ordinance in almost a decade.