Smoke ban up for vote

GALVESTON — If the city council adopts an ordinance drafted last week by the city’s legal department, tobacco smoking will be banned in restaurants and bars but allowed in cheap tobacco stores and private clubs.

The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Thursday.

Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, who asked the council to reconsider the ban several months ago, said Friday she didn’t want to speculate on how her fellow council members would vote. But a majority of council members already have said they support the measure.

“In general, most of the council members have not expressed an objection to considering a citywide smoking ban,” Thomas said.

In 2006, the council voted down a similar ordinance. Most, including Thomas, said they did not want to tell bar and restaurant owners how to run their businesses.

But since then, many local restaurants and at least one bar have opted to go smoke-free on their own.

Opposition from the island’s business community to this year’s ordinance has so far been minimal. Only two business owners, one with a bar and one with a pool table and jukebox company, came to the last council meeting to say the proposed ordinance would put them out of business.

Although the ban’s previous opponents are now anti-smoking themselves, they might not necessarily support the proposed ordinance because of its exemption for private clubs.

Unless the ban is universal, putting all establishments on equal footing, they could not support it, they said previously.

Under the proposed ordinance, a private club cannot operate for financial gain, must be managed by a board of directors and be granted an exemption from federal income taxes as an organized club.

The ordinance would allow smoking in outdoor seating areas at restaurants or bars, in private or semiprivate nursing home rooms and in hotel rooms, as long as only 20 percent of the rooms are set aside for smoking customers.

If the ordinance is approved, people who light up where smoking is banned could be fined up to $2,000, if they do it intentionally to thumb their noses at the ordinance.

Bar or restaurant owners who continue to allow smoking could be fined $200 for the first violation, $400 for the second violation and $500 for every violation after that.

Enforcement would be based on complaints.

If approved Thursday, the ordinance would not go into effect until Oct. 1 to give smokers and business owners time to get used to the new regulations.

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