Austin Readies for Smoking Ban

8-29-05 - Austin bars, bowling alleys and pool halls prepare this week for a new smoking ban while protesters make plans to light up at City Hall and challenge the law once the first person is fined.

Austin voters narrowly approved the new law, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday for about 225 establishments. Current law limits smoking to bars and restaurants that make most of their revenue from alcohol or have separate smoking sections.

But bowling alleys, pool halls and 219 establishments with smoking permits were exempt.

The new ban, which passed in May with 51.8 percent of the vote, extends the restrictions. Generally, the only smoking establishments allowed will be fraternal organizations or bingo halls.

In response a group of protesters plan to light up on the steps of City Hall and leave Mayor Will Wynn or City Manager Toby Futrell facing a smoking complaint.

"We are going to do our best to obey the spirit of the law," said Joseph Tait, the owner of Lovejoy's Tap Room and Brewery, a downtown bar.

Tait said he won't join the protest but, as a member of Keep Austin Free, he opposes the ban.

"And we're going to pray. We're hoping that all of the folks who voted for this thing follow through on their word and come downtown," he said.

Tait is preparing for the new law by posting no-smoking signs and removing ashtrays.

He said Keep Austin Free plans to seek injunctive relief and establish a defense fund for the first person who gets fined.

Just outside the city limits in Wells Branch, Rack Daddy's pool hall joins other establishments on the outskirts in welcoming smokers. A pool hall sign reads, "Don't worry! Rack Daddy's will not be affected by the smoking ban! So go ahead and smoke up!"

Most studies say smoking bans cause little, if any, negative impact to business.

For example, the Texas Department of Health compared sales and mixed-beverage tax before and after El Paso's 2002 ban and found no significant changes in restaurant and bar revenue.

But the National Restaurant Association, in a 2004 study partly funded by the Philip Morris company, found that restaurant sales decline significantly when counties implement 100 percent smoking bans in dining and bar areas.