Where will you be able to smoke in San Benito?

SAN BENITO — Smoking is becoming a red-hot topic in the Resaca City.

A final decision on where you will be able to smoke remains in limbo.

After hearing residents speak up, city commissioners are considering whether to approve an ordinance restricting cigarette smoking, scrap it or amend it.

On Aug. 15, commissioners are expected to decide the fate of the ordinance proposed by the American Health Association.

The proposed ordinance would ban smoking in work places, businesses, bars and many other locations.

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said he would not recommend whether commissioners approve the ordinance or snuff it out.

“We’re not trying to infringe on smokers or non-smokers,” De La Rosa said following a Tuesday public hearing.

After sharing their personal views, some commissioners appeared to support amending the ordinance to allow smoking in bars.

During a 45-minute public hearing, many residents spoke up against the proposal while others called for a ban in businesses including bars and restaurants.

Before an audience that packed City Hall, Jerry Saavedra, a representative for the heart association, said 20 cities across the Rio Grande Valley had approved the ordinance, while 80 Texas cities have adopted it.

“First and foremost, this is an issue about protecting public health,” Saavedra said. “This is all about protecting people indoors. This is about protecting workers. This is about protecting their lives. The lives saved outweigh everything else.”

But bar owner Leo Ramirez told commissioners a smoking ban would drive away customers in this city struggling to bring business to town and keep businesses open.

“I am a little concerned it’s going to affect our financial,” said Ramirez, who owns the Hollywood Bar. “I struggle with business every day.”

When Harlingen approved the ordinance in 2014, bars lost customers, Ramirez said.

“When Harlingen went non-smoking, I picked up a lot of customers,” he said. “The bar business in general is a little slow. This will make it slower. You’re going to lose some customers. It concerns me.”

Cameron County Commissioner David Garza said cigarette smoking has killed some of his friends.

Years ago, in Cameron County, county commissioners approved an ordinance restricting smoking, Garza said.

“Smoking has no place,” he said.

Like Ramirez, Lynne Pare, president of Keep San Benito Beautiful, said a smoking ban would drive away some customers from city businesses.

“It does have an impact on small businesses in South Texas,” Pare said. “It is very cumbersome and limiting to the citizens of San Benito.”

But Rose Galvan said secondhand smoke killed her aunt.

“This is to protect non-smokers from harmful affects of secondhand smoke,” Galvan told commissioners.

At home, her father smokes outside the house, but she is still concerned about the threat secondhand smoke could pose to her family.

“I can still smell the smoke coming in,” she said.

Julio Rios called it “an ordinance that could affect livelihoods.”

“Please take into consideration the businesses that would be affected,” Rios said.

But Dr. Belinda Reininger, with the University of Texas School of Public Health, said smokers make up 16 percent of the local population.

So banning smoking in businesses such as restaurants would bring in more non-smokers, she said.

After residents spoke out, commissioners wrestled with the topic.

But De La Rosa declined to make any recommendation.

In San Benito, he said, businesses take it upon themselves to restrict smoking, De La Rosa said.

“I certainly don’t want to create an issue where there is no issue,” he said.

But De La Rosa said he did not want to regulate smoking.

“We’re not going to send police to somewhere,” he said. “It comes across like Big Brother is telling business what to do.”

Mayor Ben Gomez took a stand against the ordinance, warning it could drive customers from businesses.

“Our city is a small town struggling,” Gomez said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want that over my head.”

Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez appeared to support amending the proposed ordinance.

Residents who go to bars, Rodriguez said, realize smoking is part of that environment.

But Commissioners Tony Gonzales, Rene Villafranco and Carol Lynn Sanchez said they were behind the push for the ordinance.

“We need to protect (against) secondhand smoke,” Villafranco said.