San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 3rd, 2011
San Marcos council snuffs out public smoking ban



In a surprise turnabout, San Marcos city councilmembers voted 4-3 against asking November general election voters whether the city should ban smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places.

On July 5, five out of seven councilmembers expressed support for — or did not speak out against — a non-binding ballot proposition on public smoking and authorized city staff to hold public meetings and develop ballot language for the proposition. But by Tuesday, councilmembers Chris Jones and Shane Scott said they were convinced that the proposed ban shouldn’t go forward this year for a range of reasons that include fears a ban would hurt businesses during an recession.

Responding to Mayor Daniel Guerrero’s assertion that adverse affects on business would be temporary at worst, Jones said, “We’re in a down economy. Accepting a four month hurt is not something that I, as one council member, am willing to do.”

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24 thoughts on “San Marcos council snuffs out public smoking ban

  1. I do not think 97 attendees (half where staff members) give the council a good since of what the people of San Marcos want when there is a population of 50,000. Let the market decide. Bar owners are loosing money by allowing smoking.

  2. Off topic – I hear council was to discuss raising the water/waste water rates at last nights meeting. Do you have anything to report on that Sean?

  3. I agree “Voter”…I believe in markets and establishments should choose. There are smoking and nonsmoking establishments in this town and it is the owners right to allow or not allow smoking in their businesses. If a citizen does not appove of the smoking, DON’T GO TO THE ESTABLISHMENTS THAT ALLOW IT!!! COULD IT BE ANY SIMPLER? The cities job is to maintain infrastructure and order, not run our businesses and lives!

  4. If 96% of San Marcos businesses already prohibit smoking I would think, if you were a non-smoker it shouldn’t be a problem to get away from the smoke in a bar or a restaurant. Why not let the 4% of businesses left decide what would be the best for their business? Government seems to LOVE the idea of thinking they know what is best for private businesses and the public.

  5. June 23rd:

    San Marcos Councilmember Jude Prather said he supports a non-binding ballot initiative. Prather said he does not support a ban on smoking in public places as a voter, but said his fidelity to democracy compels him to support giving the citizenry an opportunity to opine on the matter. Prather said the non-binding option is appropriate because a ban on smoking in public places involves enough complexity that more discretion for the council to control the outcome is warranted.

    August 3rd:

    “To be honest with you, I’m tired of the nanny state micromanaging people’s lives, telling them what they can smoke and where they can smoke it,” said councilmember Jude Prather said. “One of the first governments to make smoking bans was Nazi Germany.”

  6. Alone the assertions are self-defeating. As others have already pointed out, if so many places are already opting to ban smoking then what’s the problem? Why is a ban even needed?

    Then there’s this: “Thomason said five out of the eight bar owners with whom he spoke wanted smoking to be illegal in their establishments.” Uh, duh, those five don’t need a law to do it. Why don’t they just make that their house rule? That they can do it if they want is what defeats the need for even TALK of a ban. (That they don’t do it tells you that they worry enough about losing business or pissing off loyal customers so they want the government to be the heavy they can point the finger at for doing what they personally — not professionally — prefer. Spineless cowards are what they are ).

    But this distortion that is becoming pervasive among elected officials around the country is the most despicable of all: “Guerrero said, “[Insuring the health of the community is] the very first charge that we have.” Absolute nonsense! Over time “public health” has been stretched beyond its original meaning which was for COMMUNICABLE/CONTAGIOUS diseases. It is NOT government’s role to interfere with risky legal lifestyle choices. Because let’s be clear, smoking bans are intended as a tool to keep smokers from lighting up, not to “protect” anyone from another’s smoke. But for argument’s sake, the alleged risk of exposure to cigarette smoke still remains controversial and debateable no matter how much the anti-smoker crusaders drown that out by speaking more loudly (and threatening any researcher who tries to dispute them) than the contradictory evidence.

    But again, if YOU are worried? Then stay out of privately owned places that allow it! Councilmember Prather deserves a standing ovation.

    Founder, NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.)

  7. Stating the obvious here: If smoking bans hurt business, how do bars/restaurants in other cities survive? Austin sure does seem packed. Not to mention countless other thriving cities with smoking bans.

    That’s a false cry.

    If you want to make an argument about “no government intevention” I’ll buy that, but to say it will hurt business is ludricous. Data proves otherwise. Are they just “guessing”?

    And if they economy is down, what are you doing buying $8 packs of cigarettes??

  8. All right Prather … Godwin’s Law!

    Did he say it within the first 3 minutes of the meeting!?!
    Rules say all other arguments stop…

  9. The issue isn’t about smoke, it’s about whether or not the government has the ability to regulate what occurs inside a private business. Good job council for deciding by majority vote that it isn’t your place to tell a business owner what happens inside his/her business (beyond the ridiculous amount of permits and licenses already required to own and operate a business). If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Since owners can decide to allow smoke or not, the “five out of the eight bar owners…wanted smoking to be illegal in their establishments” can just go ahead and do that, no government intervention necessary, no wasted time and money to continue the discussion, put it on the ballot, vote, then talk about it for another year before actually deciding what to do… of course, Audrey hit the nail on the head up there about them wanting to blame big mean ol’ government instead of taking responsibility…

    So now that this is off city council’s table, let’s talk about what it means on the ground. Ready? This is a big step. It requires actual effort. VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR. Those of you who get all up in arms about not wanting smoking in public places… STOP GOING TO PLACES THAT ALLOW SMOKE. It really is that simple. If 56% of 89 people stopped supporting smoking establishments, well, nothing would happen. Those are terrible numbers, folks. Where were y’all for these meetings? But say 56% of the total population of San Marcos stopped supporting smoking establishments. That would hurt business. And that’s how change happens, real action by real people.

    And full disclosure time, I’m a bartender in a smoking establishment, a non-smoker, and a firm believer in limited government.

  10. The government already regulates what goes on inside private businesses every day. The government requires businesses to obtain permits to sell tobacco or alcohol, requires businesses to collect and remit a wide range of taxes, sets laws for acceptable labor practices, and requires businesses to provide access to handicapped people.

    But more on point would be the examples of where government intervenes in private businesses to protect the public health. Government imposes standards for everything from the quality, transportation, storage, and cooking of the food to the cleanliness of the bathrooms, kitchen, and serving area in bars and restaurants.

    Why do they do this? Isn’t it the “right” of the private business owner to operate a dirty place if he so chooses? Could “we the people” not just vote with our wallets on those issues too? Nope, because it’s a commonly held tenet that the good of the public must occasionally override the rights of one individual. It is part of the government’s job to provide for the public health (I believe this even as a small government advocate). People can quote all of the junk science studies that they want, but public smoking is CLEARLY a public health issue and is CLEARLY one that deserves more than a cursory dismissal by our Council.

    The Council made the wrong move here by taking the decision out of the hands of “we the people” and as a result, San Marcos will continue to lag behind our neighbors to the north and south on this issue (not to mention our very own University). We will continue to lose business, tourism, and revenue because of our commitment to a backward-thinking position on this issue, and I for one do not intend to let them forget that come election time.

  11. Dano – the studies showing the health risks of second hand smoke don’t get close to the occasional exposure you’d encounter as a customer. If you want to make the case that we’re protecting the employees with this law then I’m listening. Bring on your evidence. That’s the argument that has prevailed in other communities. So far I haven’t seen anyone in San Marcos mention employees. It has all been self-serving (as in “I don’t like the smoke, please outlaw it) or from an economic development angle. The “cause and effect” of cleanliness of the bathrooms is fairly easy to establish – not so with second hand smoke.

    Council did the right thing by not implementing an unnecessary law that is problematic to enforce.

  12. I’m still trying to figure out which actions of Mr. Prather Hitler would approve more of: taking away the rights of citizens to vote on an issue or banning smoking in public…

  13. Dano, I mentioned briefly in my post that I am aware that government already regulates business through licensing and permits. And yes, I believe that in the instance of a dirty kitchen, you can still vote with your wallet and not go back. Enough people get sick and spread the word a place is gross, their business will end. The government regulations on “food safety” are a joke, allowing certain percentages of rat feces, arsenic, etc to still be found inside your packaged foods. So regulation doesn’t stop everything it’s meant to stop.

    If this was really so important to “we the people”, why did such a sadly small percentage of citizens show up to the public interest meetings? After all, there were 2 meetings… guess not too many people cared enough to take 10 minutes out of their day to participate in government by the people. So when that happens, when citizens start showing up to meeting and making it to the polls, maybe the city council will think the people want the right to speak out on the issue. Until then, keep hiding behind your computer screen and not posting with your full name. I’m sure the council members you plan to vote against in November are quaking in their boots…

  14. Kara, many are voting with their wallet, but there are enough “of age” college “non-local” students (who will leave San Marcos in short time…with a new crop coming in every year) to keep businesses thriving. Take a look at e.g. Harper’s numbers when Spring Break hits.

    Many locals– who own homes here, send kids to public schools here, and own other local businesses here– ARE voting with their wallet. We, and many of our San Marcos friends, go out almost exclusively in Austin or New Braunfels.

    Who’s to say a smoking ban wouldn’t INCREASE business?? I know of many working adults (with money) that would stay in town for that.

  15. Gman, get out of town! No, really…. get out of town.

    There are plenty of bars to frequent that provide ample patio space to avoid the danger of secondhand smoke. You can even drive your car right up to the door. On your way there, when your idling at the corner of Hopkins and San Antonio and I’m behind you on my bike breathing in your consumption, I won’t ask you to stop INDIRECTLY shortening my life. Yet, when you and your kind venture out once a month to show your out of town friends a good time on the town and pretend to be connected with the community, you want to regulate the behaviour of others?
    Hogwash! The people that keep the doors to most bars open are regulars. Regulars smoke cigarettes.

    Why do you and your friends even live here if you only go out in those other towns to spend your money? Did you come here for work? Why don’t you get a job in Austin so that someone who actually wants to live in San Marcos can fill your shoes!

    Oh, and I’m a local working adult (with money) who owns a home and stays in town (with money).

  16. The final performance of “Arsenic & Old Lace” by the local community theater company, Forum Productions is tonight, Sat., Aug. 6th, at 7:30 at the Price Senior Center. I had the chance to see it last night and it is great!!! I am very excited to have such quality live entertainment in town!

  17. I have lived in areas that have gone nonsmoking with the concern that business would be hurt. The opposite happened in every case. Businesses boomed. One establishment, Chili’s, had great concerns when the ban was being discussed. The establishment went from busy to bustling. Many people who would not go to it because of second hand smoke, started going, and we saw the bar eating area full of families who were never seen there before. Smokers simply stepped outside. I will also say it was nice smelling food when I entered the establishments rather than stale cigarette smoke. Our city council should visit places that have gone non smoking before making predictions on effects. On another note, our college students visit popular establishments, and we have an obligation to protect them against the harmful effects of second hand smoke. My parents were both smokers for most of their lives. My mother died of lung cancer as did my husband’s mother. My grandmother died a horrific, painful death of lung cancer resulting from second hand smoke.

  18. “On another note, our college students visit popular establishments, and we have an obligation to protect them against the harmful effects of second hand smoke”

    No we don’t. Your statement represents the folly of believing in the Nanny State.

    “My grandmother died a horrific, painful death of lung cancer resulting from second hand smoke.”

    Another silly statement. There has never been a death certificate issued in the US which says a person died of second hand smoke. Just your uneducated speculation.

    Damn, you do gooders mind your own business and leave the rest of us alone. There are far more non-smoking places to eat in San Marcos than there are smoking places. Go to the non-smoking place of your choice and leave the rest of us the hell alone.

  19. Why not ban geasy food and alcohol, surely those kill more people in San Marcos in any given year than non-smokers from contact with second hand smoke? Or are we just legislating on unpopular behavior?

  20. Personally, I’d love to see all public places smoke free. BUT – that still wouldn’t touch the root of the issue that really concerns me: WHY do so many people STILL take up smoking as teens and as college students? I really don’t understand it:

    My parents were taught that smoking was good for your health – kept your weight under control, relieved stress, heck, my mom’s obstetrician recommended it to his pregnant patients as a way to relax! The truth about tobacco’s addictive qualities and it’s harmful effects was actively hidden by the tobacco companies. My parents never stood a chance.

    I ‘m the first generation that had the risks of smoking HAMMERED into me as a child (in the 70’s) – at school, at church, and yes, even from my 2-3 pack a day smoking parents (go figure!) We had to handle the preserved lungs of smokers, full of cancer and tar. We watched the videos of folks wasting away from lung cancer. It was never acceptable, but more importantly – we were shown exactly what that crap does to your body. Smoking scared and disgusted me as a kid, and I wasn’t even tempted to take it up.

    I’d love to see a cultural shift in San Marcos away from this stubborn insistence that smoking is a “harmless” little vice. I’m not sure how that would happen, but man, how great to see the next generation come up in town and not even NEED smoker’s bars. We can and should do it without villifying smokers.

    SMCISD, how are you getting to the littlest ones regarding smoking? Grade school and Jr.High was where I heard and saw the strongest anti-smoking information of all. Any other ideas?

  21. Watson, in defense of Councilmember Prather, I say kudos to him for being willing to alter his position — as long as he did so after careful deliberation, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming that was the case.

    If he reasoned that fidelity to democracy does not equal fidelity to the ideals of freedom, I agree with him. Prather references the Nazis. Of course, their representatives won a majority of seats in the Reichstag through elections with universal suffrage. Due to this example and many others, there is no reason to suppose 51+ percent of a population, or a plurality, is any wiser, intelligent, or more just than a minority. There can be plenty of injustice under a democracy if citizens do not hold dear the values of freedom. If this is related to Prather’s reasoning, I hope more people come to a similar realization.

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