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February 19, 2005

Smoking Petition / City Council Politics

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

The Daily Texan Reports today that the Austin Smoking Ban Petition is on the edge of making on the ballot.

The campaign filed 36,000 signatures, though not all of them counted, missing the mark and only hitting 33,438 of the 36,764 required signatures. Much of this is being supported by the various Health and Cancer groups and societies AMA, Texas Lung Assoc., etc.

Now it is true that Austin political guru Glen Maxey has been aiding this campaign and usually gets petitions on the ballot when he tries. The problem this time was not that Glen didn't do it, but rather that Glen wasn't primarily in charge of getting the job done until late in the game. But I would not be surprised if he managed to pull another 3000 signatures out of the air this weekend (if he hasn't already collected them over the past week or so).

So assuming, that, we head off into the debate over whether or not the City of Austin needs a stronger smoking ban like El Paso or New York City (heck, I think Fredericksburg's is close to being that tough).

It's an issue that will split Liberals along personal freedom / public health lines and could very well play into the city council race. Ruminations have it that the Margot Clarke campaign could come out for it should it make it on the ballot (which wouldn't surprise me since Maxey's is one of her consultants and it would play well with her base turnout groups- Central and South Austin progressives).

I'm already fairly sure that the Gregg Knaupe campaign will be against it considering Mr. Vice President of Public Affairs for the Texas Hospital Association's consulting group seems to be heading up the Anti-Ban forces. As one of the members of the new Travis County Hospital District Steering Committee, it must make things more difficult because there is a very convincing case for either side, which may be why candidates are hoping that it just doesn't make it on the ballot to begin with.

Just as a side note, since it has been on my mind...and believe me, I'll write another City Council entry very soon about all the candidates so don't feel like I'm singling anyone out. It's just that the Knaupe campaign has been very aggressive in positioning itself and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in a runoff and they have a blog, so well, I spend some time on their site.

Though I'm sure that working for the Texas Hospital Association is a nice plus on the résumé, and that Knaupe isn't tied to their political expenditures departments... but since I did a study last semester on Proposition 12 related PAC donations to the Texas Legislature following the 2002 election through 2003...

HOSPAC (Texas Hospital Association PAC)

Total Donations (House): $47,700
-Republicans: $40,350
-Democrats: $7,350
-Avg. Republicans: $1,187
-Avg. Democrats: $735

HOSPAC was one of the heavy hitters in the Pro-Prop 12 Coalition (with 4 of the 10 Democrats they donated to voting for the enabling legislation, HJR 3) which Travis County gave a 62% NO vote to.

I mean, if it was my candidate, and most of the politically active people that vote in City Council elections are also the types that drag their butts out to vote in Constitutional Amendment elections, and maybe, just maybe associate the Texas Hospital Association with something bad rather than good.... I might stop mentioning it.

Otherwise snarky bloggers will write posts like this.

If you want the actual data I collected in reference to this, it is all available here in excel.

Posted by Karl-Thomas Musselman at February 19, 2005 01:50 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Anybody know who I can contact to sign the petition?

Posted by: Brian at February 19, 2005 05:07 PM

If you run into me on campus, I have sheets. There is one on my door in Blanton. Otherwise, Glen Maxey over on 512 E Riverside will have them. Or if you wander around the UT Campus area monday, I'll bet there are people out.

Posted by: Karl-Thomas at February 19, 2005 05:15 PM

Great...

As I understood it smokers represented the minority in Austin as well as the US.

Yet business owners are forking over thousands for the right to provide goods and services to smokers.

Are smokers a better demographic for restaraunts and bars? If so, and if their licensing fees are feeding city coffers what's the beef?

Surely if more than 50% of the city would vote to ban smoking then at least 50% of the city's establisments will provide a safe haven for these folks to enjoy a night out?

Or could it be that non smokers just don't drop the coin in restaraunts and bars that smokers do?

Posted by: Davebo at February 20, 2005 07:15 PM

The fact is that there are different kinds of people in the world and different kinds of bars. Some bars happen to cater to a predominantly smoking crowd, as much as 90%. It would be politically incorrect to assume that because the majority of Americans are nonsmokers, there should be nowhere to cater to the minority who prefer to smoke and socialize. Democracy should enable diverse people to live in harmony.


Think also about this, if the majority of people are nonsmokers, why haven't they opened bars and restaurants to cater to the nonsmoking majority? It can't be that only smoke hungry libertarians have that entrepreneurial spirit. The most notable voluntarily nonsmoking bar to open in Austin was the Acoustic Cafe on Sixth Street which closed within 3 months. Currently, Mean Eyed Cat and Opal Divine's are smokefree inside with smoking on their patios. (Few bars and restaurants have patios, by the way.)

But it is important to note that there is a bar culture that is predominantly supported by people who associate smoking with their experience. People who don't consider themselves smokers may smoke the occasional cigar or cigarette while out on the town. And many avowed smokers go out to avoid smoking in their homes or around their children or spouses. The majority of people in most bars are at least occasional smokers. People who frequent bars know that. And it is true that nonsmokers do drop less coin at bars and restaurants. Smokers tend to linger.

And finally, it should be noted that, statistically, people working or visiting smoking venues make a free choice. There are 46,000 businesses in Austin, and over 99% of them are smokefree. There are over 2000 restaurants in Austin, and less than a dozen offer smoking sections (which, by the way, must be enclosed from the nonsmoking areas and separately ventilated in a manner to keep any smoke from entering the nonsmoking sections.) There are over 550 mixed beverage permits in Austin, and 200 bars allow smoking. No one under 18 is allowed anywhere that smoking is permitted. The reality does reflect that more places are available exclusively for the safety of nonsmokers and children than the freedom of smokers.

In reference to the idea that businesses are forking over thousands for the right to provide goods and services to smokers, it would be justified, if true. It costs $300 per year to attain a smoking permit under Austin's current smoking ban. The two local anti-ban coalitions, Keep Austin Free PAC and Save Austin Jobs Alliance, have raised some money from less than 20 local business owners, employees and citizens. Neither receive money from tobacco companies. Meanwhile, Onward Austin is rumored to have have received upwards of $500,000 from the American Cancer Society to push this ban into the last 211 smoking venues in this town. Petitioners were paid $9 an hour to collect signatures. They were not all concerned volunteers as we would be led to believe. They had training and supervisers. The move to ban smoking in public places is hardly a grassroots campaign. Rather, it is big business. Read above, Glen Maxey is their campaign manager and he is not free. He offered to pay $1 per signature when he took over the job. Makes you wonder what he must be getting paid.

But hopefully, what will prevail is the right for diverse people to open diverse businesses, employing diverse staff, catering to diverse customers. A few of these people may wish to participate in a legal activity in the presence of one another. That's what happens now and the people who are going to these diverse places are showing with their choices and their pocketbooks that they don't really mind the status quo.

Posted by: Randall at February 27, 2005 01:50 PM

The fact is that there are different kinds of people in the world and different kinds of bars. Some bars happen to cater to a predominantly smoking crowd, as much as 90%. It would be politically incorrect to assume that because the majority of Americans are nonsmokers, there should be nowhere to cater to the minority who prefer to smoke and socialize. Democracy should enable diverse people to live in harmony.


Think also about this, if the majority of people are nonsmokers, why haven't they opened bars and restaurants to cater to the nonsmoking majority? It can't be that only smoke hungry libertarians have that entrepreneurial spirit. The most notable voluntarily nonsmoking bar to open in Austin was the Acoustic Cafe on Sixth Street which closed within 3 months. Currently, Mean Eyed Cat and Opal Divine's are smokefree inside with smoking on their patios. (Few bars and restaurants have patios, by the way.)

But it is important to note that there is a bar culture that is predominantly supported by people who associate smoking with their experience. People who don't consider themselves smokers may smoke the occasional cigar or cigarette while out on the town. And many avowed smokers go out to avoid smoking in their homes or around their children or spouses. The majority of people in most bars are at least occasional smokers. People who frequent bars know that. And it is true that nonsmokers do drop less coin at bars and restaurants. Smokers tend to linger.

And finally, it should be noted that, statistically, people working or visiting smoking venues make a free choice. There are 46,000 businesses in Austin, and over 99% of them are smokefree. There are over 2000 restaurants in Austin, and less than a dozen offer smoking sections (which, by the way, must be enclosed from the nonsmoking areas and separately ventilated in a manner to keep any smoke from entering the nonsmoking sections.) There are over 550 mixed beverage permits in Austin, and 200 bars allow smoking. No one under 18 is allowed anywhere that smoking is permitted. The reality does reflect that more places are available exclusively for the safety of nonsmokers and children than the freedom of smokers.

In reference to the idea that businesses are forking over thousands for the right to provide goods and services to smokers, it would be justified, if true. It costs $300 per year to attain a smoking permit under Austin's current smoking ban. The two local anti-ban coalitions, Keep Austin Free PAC and Save Austin Jobs Alliance, have raised some money from less than 20 local business owners, employees and citizens. Neither receive money from tobacco companies. Meanwhile, Onward Austin is rumored to have have received upwards of $500,000 from the American Cancer Society to push this ban into the last 211 smoking venues in this town. Petitioners were paid $9 an hour to collect signatures. They were not all concerned volunteers as we would be led to believe. They had training and supervisers. The move to ban smoking in public places is hardly a grassroots campaign. Rather, it is big business. Read above, Glen Maxey is their campaign manager and he is not free. He offered to pay $1 per signature when he took over the job. Makes you wonder what he must be getting paid.

But hopefully, what will prevail is the right for diverse people to open diverse businesses, employing diverse staff, catering to diverse customers. A few of these people may wish to participate in a legal activity in the presence of one another. That's what happens now and the people who are going to these diverse places are showing with their choices and their pocketbooks that they don't really mind the status quo.

Posted by: randall at February 27, 2005 01:52 PM

Randall,

The obvious counter to your libertarian argument is that the only smoke-free bars in the area are on the UT campus (by governmental fiat). One would expect that since the market has 'shown' that nobody 'wants' a non-smoking bar and the Cactus is only smoke-free because of the government, that the Cactus would be having trouble filling their seats.

Right?

Well, they're not. There's clearly a HUGE unfilled demand for non-smoking music-and-drinking venues out there. Just like how, ten years ago (when EVERY restaurant had a smoking section), the market was failing to provide non-smoking dining for the majority of patrons (who wanted it), there are other reasons besides libertarian arguments with all the complexity of grade school.

Posted by: M1EK at March 4, 2005 03:12 PM
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