City decides where you can smoke

SAN BENITO — Smokers won’t be allowed to light up in the city’s bars and pool halls — but they won’t be far away.

Last night, city commissioners approved an ordinance restricting cigarette smoking in buildings such as businesses and restaurants.

Mayor Ben Gomez, who has argued the ban could hurt some businesses, cast the sole dissenting vote.

“Thank you for your leadership,” Jerry Saavedra, a representative for the American Health Association, told commissioners before the vote.

Earlier this month, residents packed City Hall, many requesting commissioners approve the ordinance proposed by the heart association, while others warned a ban could snuff out some business in the city’s bars.

Before the vote, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa presented commissioners with options including reducing smokers’ distance from doors and windows.

While the ordinance suggested smokers stay at least 25 feet away, commissioners followed De La Rosa’s recommendation, cutting the distance to five feet.

But Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said he would have preferred limiting the distance to 10 feet.

De La Rosa also presented commissioners with the option of continuing to allow smokers in bars and pools halls.

But commissioners imposed the ban across those businesses, too.

Two weeks ago, many residents joined Leo Ramirez, owner of the Hollywood Bar, warning the ban could drive away some customers from the city’s bar businesses.

But other residents called on all-out smoking ban, arguing second-hand smoke killed their loved ones.

From the audience, Saavedra called it “an issue about protecting public health,” telling commissioners 20 cities across the Rio Grande Valley had approved the ordinance, while 80 Texas cities have adopted it.

As part of the ordinance, violators face $200 fines, up to $2,000 a day.


The ordinance bans smoking within 5 feet of:

– Doors and windows

– Sports stadiums

– City-owned pavilions and playgrounds

The ordinance bans smoking in:

– Bars

– Restaurants

– Shopping malls

– Retail stores

– Restrooms

Other cities that have smoking bans

– Harlingen

– McAllen

– Brownsville

– Raymondville