Senator Ellis Press Release

For Immediate Release
May 19, 2009
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Statewide Smoking Ban Snuffed Out
Smoke-free Texas legislation banning smoking in nearly all workplaces falls short

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today announced that the effort to pass smoke-free Texas legislation has fallen short in the Texas Senate. The announcement ends a months-long effort by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton) and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to build enough support to pass the measure into law.

Senate Bill 544 would have eliminated smoking in indoor public places, including municipal worksites and private worksites including restaurants, restaurant bars and stand-alone bars. The legislation would have levied a maximum fine of $100 for owners, managers or operators, but exempted cigar bars and tobacco shops.

"I am terribly disappointed that we were unable to ban smoking in public places," said Senator Ellis. "Make no mistake, a uniform, smoke-free workplace standard for Texas will happen, sooner rather than later" said Ellis. "The vast majority of Texans understand the impact smoking has on our health and our economy. The legislation would have improved the health of Texans and save our state billions of dollars in health care costs over time."

"Big tobacco spent millions to kill smoke-free legislation and they got to enough of our legislators to win this round. On the state level we have to hit pause but in local governments across Texas were mobilizing starting June 1st. Nearly seventy percent of Texans support comprehensive smoke-free legislation and we want safe, smoke-free work places where we can earn a living. As weve seen in states all over America, its just a matter of time before our efforts succeed. We are not intimidated by big tobacco and we will not give up." Lance Armstrong, founder and chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Senate Bill 544, supported by the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the Texas Restaurant Association and others, was derailed in large measure due to an intense lobbying efforts by tobacco companies. According to the Dallas Morning News, Big Tobacco interests have hired 40 lobbyists and are spending between $1.2 and $2.4 million lobbying against the smoking ban and a new formula for taxing chewing tobacco.

"The highly-paid lobbyists of Big Tobacco have scored a short-term victory, to the detriment of Texans' health, but it will be short-lived," said Ellis. "They are fighting a losing battle because 70 percent of Texans want a statewide smoking ban. Deep pockets can thwart the will of the people for only so long."

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, 26 states have passed similar smoking bans.