Residents and business owners can voice their feelings about a proposed smoking ordinance to the Conroe City Council during a public hearing at 4 p.m. today.
Council members will further discuss the topic during their workshop meeting immediately after the hearing. The possibility of an ordinance to prohibit smoking in public places arose last month after Mayor Webb Melder asked the council to “revisit” a 2006 proposed ordinance that died for lack of action.
Melder requested in July that the council hold off on voting for a month so the public could give input. No action is scheduled for Thursday’s regular meeting, but City Attorney Marcus Winberry recommended the council “give further consideration” to the ordinance with a final draft ready for approval later this month, according to a letter included in the council’s agenda information.
Winberry also included a revised ordinance draft that would prohibit smoking in selected public places but gives restaurants an option to allow separately ventilated smoking areas. The draft ordinance does not specifically allow smoking in bars, tobacco shops or private clubs, but it does state “it is an affirmative defense to prosecution” that the person was smoking in one of those places.
However, a model ordinance from BreatheFree Conroe, also included in the council information, would prohibit smoking in all enclosed public places – including restaurants, bars and private clubs – all places of employment, private and semi-private nursing home rooms, at least 80 percent of hotel and motel rooms and in and near playgrounds.
Smoking also would be prohibited within “a reasonable distance” outside entrances, windows and ventilation systems of enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited.
Private residences would be exempt, except those used as a child care, adult day care or healthcare facility. Any violations would be subject to a fine up to $50 for the smoker and $100 to $500 for the business owner, depending on the number of violations within a year.
“Council may wish to consider including some of the more stringent model ordinance provisions,” Winberry wrote on the summary of the agenda item.
One type of business not addressed specifically in BreatheFree Conroe’s model ordinance is tobacco shops.
“Their draft is so broad as to prohibit smoking even in those places,” Winberry said. “A tobacco shop is an obvious place of business. In order to allow it, there would have to be an exception.”
The draft is meant to be broad, and members of BreatheFree Conroe want no exemptions if the model ordinance is approved, said Chrissie West, chairwoman of the group.
“When somebody goes into a liquor store, they don’t open up a bottle of liquor and start consuming it,” she said.
Such comprehensive bans are an “assault on business and an infringement on liberties,” said attorney Nancy McCoy, who, along with her husband Mike, just signed a five-year lease on a shopping center space at Texas 242 and Interstate 45 to open a cigar shop.
The McCoys, who just sold their first cigar shop in downtown Houston to open the Montgomery County location, have invested approximately $200,000 into Mike’s Cigar Bar, Nancy McCoy said. The shop is scheduled to open in September.
“Nobody is involuntarily subjected to secondhand smoke at a cigar shop,” she said. “It’s like banning eating at McDonald’s. At some point, it’s Orwellian. It’s ‘Big Brother’ at its worst. Lay off people’s rights.”
But the premise of BreatheFree Conroe’s stance is public health, West said.
“Think about the workers in those tobacco shops,” she said. “Think about protecting the workers.”
Business could suffer in Conroe should the council adopt the stringent ordinance recommended by BreatheFree Conroe, McCoy said.
“People will go to cigar shops in The Woodlands or go to bars and restaurants in South County,” she said.
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