Conroe drops bars from its smoking ordinance
May 7, 2010
By Beth Kuhles
Two months after enacting one of the most comprehensive smoking bans in the area, the Conroe City Council has removed bars from the new ordinance because of the economic impact it was having on business owners.
“I lost $15,000 in March,” said David Luttrell of Malone’s Pub. “It was like someone pulled a switch. I lost $15,000 in April. I had to lay off four employees and seven bands. It has also affected my suppliers and vendors too.”
After hearing similar stories from other bar owners, the council reversed its position Thursday to allow smoking in bar, which are defined as “pubs, ice houses, beer joints and saloons.”
The city attorney strongly recommended against a council move to define bars as those that get 75 percent of their sales from alcohol, saying it may open the door for restaurants to be exempt from the smoking laws.
“I strongly advise against the percentage based approach,” said City Attorney Marcus Winberry. “There would be extremely close calls to make on whether a business fits on one side or the other, and that figure could vary monthly. It also would muddy the water on whether the business is a bar or restaurant.”
Conroe’s comprehensive smoking ban took effect on March 1 and prohibits smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces in the community, as well as public outdoor spaces. Smoking was permitted on outdoor patios of bars and in retail tobaccos stores, private clubs, theatrical performances and bingo halls with separate areas for non-smokes.
Many of the city’s 100 bar owners have fought the new law since the beginning, saying it would put them out of business. They initially mounted a petition drive to repeal the law or require a public referendum on the issue, which failed because it lacked the number of registered voters from Conroe.
They also have appeared before council in February pleading for relief.
In contrast, Chrissie West of Breathe Free Conroe was the sole supporter at the May 5 council work session to continue the smoking ban in bars.
“In a depressed economy, there is not enough information to see the direct impact on businesses,” West said. “I will not be an educated informed decision. You need an objective, unbiased study over one year.”
West argued that employees need to be protected wherever they work.
Ironically, the decision comes just two days before the city elections, when the majority of the seats are up to election. Only Councilman Jim Gentry is running for reelection.
Jim Hallers, owner of Tailgators Pub and Grill, said his liquor sales are off 20 top 25 percent since the smoking ban. Before the new law, he boast $2.2 million in annual sales and 43 employees. Michael Stewart, owner of Johnny B. Daltons, said his sales have been cut by half and business has moved to nearby Harris County.
“I see 15 to 20 of my customers sitting in a bar in Willis,” Stewart said. “Please let us save our business.
Councilman Jay Ross Martin, who will be replaced in his Place 5 seat because of term limits, voted to reverse the smoking ban in bars. He said the law is impacting the ability of waitresses to earn a living and driving business to nearby communities
“I never intended to hurt anyone’s business,” Martin said.
The amendment to the ordinance that allows smoking in bars passed the council unanimously.
Conroe’s Smoking Ban
A new ordinance, which bans smoking in public places, private business and outdoor public spaces, including within 20 feet of a public doors and windows, took effect on March 1. The city council removed bars from the ban at its meeting on May 6.
For a complete list of places where the smoking ban remains in effect, visit the city’s ordinances, Chapter 26, Article 7 at www.cityofconroe.org
Source: City of Conroe