Port Aransas City Councilman Keith Donley’s recent proposal for a ban on smoking in public places has prompted more than 382 people to take part in a poll that the South Jetty has implemented on its Web site, www.portasouthjetty.com.
At press time, the unscientific poll showed 61 percent of respondents supporting a ban and 39 percent against. (The deadline for voting is noon on Tuesday, Dec. 14.)
Donley’s proposal has stoked more citizen interest than any topic Mayor Keith McMullin has encountered since being elected to the city council about five years ago, McMullin said.
Donley said he wants a new city ordinance created to make it illegal to smoke in public places including restaurants, bars and other businesses because second-hand smoke is an annoyance and a health hazard.
“I believe everyone has a right to smoke, but I also believe everyone has a right to walk into a public building and breathe smoke-free air,” Donley said.
McMullin said he opposes the proposal because he believes the issue is best left to individual business owners to decide.
Other council members are expected to weigh in when the matter goes before the council on Thursday, Dec. 16.
Even if a majority of council members decide during the meeting that they might want smoking made illegal in public places, no ban will be immediately implemented. The most the council could do would be to instruct city staff to draw up a proposed nosmoking ordinance and present it to the council for possible approval at later meetings.
A specific proposed ordinance would have to go through readings and public hearings at three council meetings, probably over the course of three months, before it could be passed into law.
As of late last week, McMullin had been contacted by about 50 people, with all but three speaking out against the proposal, he said.
Donley, on the other hand, said about 20 people have spoken to him in support of his proposal, and only one person who contacted him has expressed opposition.
Many restaurants in town already have implemented voluntary bans on smoking as a matter of the individual businesses’ policies. Some have created smoking areas and prohibited smoking in the rest of their establishments.
City staff has done some research on how many Port Aransas bars and restaurants allow smoking. Staff listed 14 of the businesses as smoking establishments, 15 as non-smoking and another 15 as having both non-smoking and smoking areas, according to a report that is expected to be provided to the city council as background.
Of the businesses with non-smoking and smoking areas, 13 allow smoking only on outdoor decks or lounges, the report said.
One restaurant bans smoking on summer weekends and holidays. Three restaurants include designated indoor smoking and non-smoking areas.
“As patrons, we can go to the places that we prefer – smoking or non-smoking,” McMullin said. “Additionally, non-smokers have more options than ever before in Port A. Ten years ago, I don’t think there was a non-smoking bar or restaurant. Now there are choices.”
Donley said it’s often not possible to prevent smoke from drifting into nonsmoking areas. He also pointed out that there are only a few eateries where breakwww. fast is served in town, and a good portion of them allow smoking inside.
The idea of a smoking ban is “out-oftune with our independent-minded, freespirited Port A ways,” McMullin said.
“Honestly, the thought of a guy not being able to walk into Shorty’s (and) have a cold beer and a smoke strikes me as unimaginable,” the mayor said.
Donley said two waitresses have thanked him for proposing a smoking ban. Both, he said, are non-smokers who must endure breathing second-hand smoke throughout their shifts and then smell like smoke when they get home.
Donley and McMullin, both of whom are non-smokers, said they expect the issue to be controversial and emotional.
“I really hope there is a good and vigorous but rational debate,” Donley said.