|By Emily Ramshaw, The Dallas Morning News|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 28, 2004 - City Council members decided Wednesday not to dilute Dallas' smoking ordinance, narrowly defeating efforts to give privileges back to bingo parlors and hotel meeting rooms.
"I'm sympathetic to the industry – business is the engine that drives our city," Council member Leo Chaney said. "But I think health outweighs dollars and cents. The ordinance needs to run its course."
Proponents of the amendments said the two industries have been unfairly hurt by the policy, which applies to every public venue in the city except freestanding bars and outdoor patios. The bingo-parlor measure failed with a 7-7 tie vote, and the hotel amendment failed 8-6. Council member Ed Oakley was out of town and did not vote.
Council member Sandy Greyson, who pushed for the amendments, said bingo-parlor advocates and hoteliers have lobbied against the ordinance since before it was passed nearly two years ago. And she said she thought the changes were "reasonable requests."
"Obviously, this is still a very controversial matter, and this is a very, very divided council," Ms. Greyson said.
Emotions ran high in Wednesday's council debate, which included pleas from the hotel and bingo industries and firsthand accounts from elected officials.
Council member Bill Blaydes was a lifelong smoker until two years ago. Mr.
Blaydes said that he understands the health implications but that smoking is a personal choice.
"If something has to be fought for this hard, in the sense that it is imposing one's will on somebody's free right of choice, then I think it's probably wrong overall," he said. "Big Brother continues to legislate morality, and you just can't flat-out do that and be right."
A divisive issue Mayor Pro Tem John Loza said he and other nonsmokers have a similar right – to clean air.
The amendments "stink, literally and figuratively," he said. "There isn't a single business in this city that has gone broke because of the smoking ban."
Bingo and hotel representatives disagree. Four months after the ordinance went into effect, 11 downtown hotels reported a combined revenue loss of $1.5 million.
And Larry Whittington, manager for Team Bingo, which runs two halls in Dallas and others in Duncanville, DeSoto and Richardson, said Dallas' bingo halls have lost more than $2 million in the last year and a half – much of which would have gone to charity.
Fairmont Hotel general manager Frank Naboulsi, one of several industry leaders at Wednesday's meeting, said it makes no sense to promote a policy that takes business away from Dallas and sends it to the suburbs.
"I hope we can all recognize the current city policy on smoking has created an unlevel playing field," he said.
Mayor Laura Miller said Dallas has lost only two trade shows as a result of the smoking ban – Cigar Aficionado magazine and tobacco giant Philip Morris. She said Phillip Jones, chief executive of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, told her that the city's convention industry has not lost business because of the ban.
In a letter sent to the mayor Tuesday, Mr. Jones stated that the ban was not brought up during any sales calls he has received in the last year, and that smoking bans are a growing trend across the country.
In New York, smoking is outlawed in bars and restaurants. California and Delaware have similar statewide bans. Utah, Maine and Vermont allow smoking only in bars.
"In terms of citywide business, we have not lost any – there is no economic downturn," Ms. Miller said. "We have a great ordinance, and we're doing well with it."
Karen Potasznik, chairwoman of Smoke-Free Dallas, said the council made a good move when it banned smoking in public venues. She said that if the ordinance needs to be changed, it should be strengthened, not weakened.
"Seventy-four percent of people don't smoke," Ms. Potasznik said. "Their health and very lives are in your hands."
In the days before Wednesday's vote, Ms. Miller received letters from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society requesting that the smoking ban be upheld.
"There isn't any other issue I hear more about on a regular basis than how great it is we adopted the smoking ban," Ms. Miller said.
'They can say no' Dallas was the first large city in North Texas to approve a smoking ordinance, but not the first in the state. El Paso has the strictest ordinance in Texas, banning smoking in restaurants and bars.
Mr. Blaydes said that no matter what other cities choose to do, he doesn't support such a policy in Dallas.
"If a business person, a hotelier, a bar owner or a restaurateur does not desire to have smoking in their establishment, they can say no," Mr.
Blaydes said. "Don't tell me how to run my business. I'm tired of the government getting in my face."
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