Senator Ellis Press Release

For Immediate Release
May 11, 2009
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Senate Health & Human Services Committee Passes Smoking Ban
SB 544 will ban smoking in almost all indoor public & private workplaces

(Austin) — By a vote of 5-3 the Senate Human Services Committee today passed historic legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) banning smoking in public places across Texas.

Senate Bill 544 will eliminate smoking in indoor public places, including municipal worksites and private worksites including restaurants, restaurant bars and stand-alone bars. The legislation levies a maximum fine of $100 for violators, and exempts cigar bars and tobacco shops.

"The bottom line is that this bill will save lives," said Ellis. "The vast majority of Texans understand the impact smoking has on our health and our economy. Senate Bill 544 will improve the health of Texans and save our state billions of dollars in health care costs over time."

Secondhand smoke is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, low birth weight, chronic lung ailments (such as bronchitis and asthma) and other health problems, and it leads to the death of 53,000 Americans each year studies have found. Of Texans polled by Smoke-Free Texas, 92 percent said they realized that secondhand smoke is a health hazard.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 37 percent of adult nonsmokers inhale secondhand smoke at home or work. Levels of secondhand smoke in bars are 3.9 to 6.1 times higher than in office worksites and up to 4.5 times higher than in homes with at least one smoker, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A statewide poll commissioned by the Smoke-Free Texas coalition found that 68 percent of Texans favor a statewide law eliminating smoking in all indoor workplaces and public facilities including public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars. The statewide poll mirrors Texans' choice at the ballot box 28 cities have passed comprehensive smoking bans and 250 others have passed more limited anti-smoking measures. Nationwide, 24 states have passed similar smoking bans, and another bill awaits the governor's signature in Maryland.

"Time is running out and we need to get moving if we want to help build a smoke-free Texas," said Ellis. "It is interesting how some people will applaud efforts to put more funding in cancer research yet oppose a simple common sense legislative effort to keep more people from getting cancer. This common-sense reform will have an enormous impact combating a disease that is responsible for a fourth of all Texas deaths."