Friday, June 17 marks the end of the two-year grace period of the Wichita Falls smoking ban and all bars and restaurants in the city are now smoke-free.
City councilors voted the approval of the smoking ban in 2014 with the amendment that would allow patrons of bars and restaurants to light up inside the establishments. For two more years, that is.
Under the new ordinance, smokers are required to stand outside at least 20 feet from the door of businesses while smoking and 5 feet from a business that only allows people 18 and up. Vaping is also prohibited indoors.
The ordinance passed with a 4 to 3 vote, including Mayor Glenn Barham’s vote in favor of the city ordinance.
“I think, in this day in age, more and more people are becoming health conscience and more and more people are realizing that smoking is bad for your health,” said Barham “Not only direct smoking but indirect smoking, as well. Because the majority of the community seemed to be leading towards a smoking ban, that’s why I supported it.”
The discussion came to council by the Wichita County Medical Society first reaching out to the Wichita Falls Health Department but they were dissatisfied with the two-year grace period for bars and restaurants included in the ordinance.
According to Barham, public health and safety issues can go into effect immediately as an emergency but the ordinance probably wouldn’t have had the support without the two-year grace period.
“The health coalition folks were not happy about that but you know our context was, it’s the only way it was going to get passed,” Barham said.
Many Wichita Falls businesses and bars have spent the grace period making preparations and hitting their wallets to accommodate their smoking clientele.
“I know that some businesses have started making those preparations and probably the best example is Iron Horse Pub downtown,” Barham continued. “You know they just finished their awning for their outdoor dining area. I’ve seen pictures of it but I haven’t been down there to look at it yet, but it looks like it’s going to be a neat environment for folks to sit outside and enjoy their meals,” he said.
Lou Kreidler, Director of Health at Wichita County Public Health District, said the Health Coalition of Wichita County conducted a community health assessment and built goals and objectives for second-hand smoke exposure in the community.
“…really updating our smoking ordinance because when it passed, originally, it was one of the strongest ordinances in the state,” said Kriedler. “When we went back to council two years ago to renew it, it had turned into one of the weakest ordinances in the state.”
According to Kreidler, the Coalition made these determinations after surveys showed Wichita Falls to have one of the highest smoking rates in the state.
TPCC of Wichita Falls, or Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition, is a grant service, Kreidler said, used as an “educational arm” to allow staff to make visits to local businesses and train them in the new ordinances, as well as fund the new signage with the city ordinance section code.
“They’ve gone out and visited the majority of the bars in our community and they’ve taken out coasters to put underneath the drinks that say the date that the ordinance goes into effect,” Kriedler said. “Just making sure that the bars are ready and in place because I really think for the restaurants it’ll be a small change but for the bars it really is going to be a big change for them,” she said.
52 Texas cities enforce strict smoking bans including Austin, El Paso, Dallas, Corpus Christi and now Mesquite but more than 100 cities have some form of tobacco prohibition.
The Americans for Nonsmokers Rights have said that both Texas Restaurant Association and Texas Licensed Beverage Association are fiscally involved with Phillip Morris and oppose smoking bans for this reason but NewsTalk 1290 has found documents from the TRA showing their support for a statewide smoking ban.
In 2002, El Paso restaurants and bars showed no sign of decline in sales after implementing the same smoking ban. In fact, a study done by the Centers for Disease Control showed no significant change in revenue after smoking bans between Texas and 28 other states and Washington D.C.