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PA smoking ordinance amended to allow bar smoking

 

Port Arthur City Council voted to weaken its smoke-free ordinance Tuesday after bar owners and patrons said their businesses were hurting financially since the city imposed the new rules governing smoking three weeks ago.

About 20 people spoke at the meeting, mostly those hoping to sway the Council into amending the smoke-free ordinance to allow smoking in bars.

Their efforts proved successful. By a vote of 6-3, a motion introduced by District 6 Councilman Osman Swati passed.

Swati praised the work of those who labored to get the city’s smoke-free ordinance passed that prohibited smoking in all public buildings, but in the end, it was the business owners’ plight and the loss of taxpayer dollars that changed his and other councilmembers’ mind.

Since the ordinance went into effect on May 9, numerous businesses contacted him; all complaining their business was suffering.

“We failed to consider a very small sector of businesses in our city,” he said. “Do we want to compromise these businesses or do want to stand our ground? Sometimes in passing laws the impact is not immediately seen. I think it is only fair now that this group wants to be heard. Such an amendment is necessary for them to stay in business.”

Christopher Shell, of Groves, said he is a member of The Capri Club, a private club whose owner Jeff Childs has been very vocal about the negative impact the ordinance has on his business.

“The smoking ordinance is great for public places, but I want to go to a bar and smoke,” he said.

Shell said he and his wife go to the private club often and have noticed a distinct decrease in business during the last three weeks.

“Everybody knows your name at The Capri Club. We just want to go to the Capri Club and enjoy it like we have for years, spend our money there, enjoy our beer and enjoy our cigarettes.”

Childs said since the ordinance passed, The Capri Club has lost 50 percent of its business and likely would have to close its doors if the ordinance stood.

Other bar owners and managers echoed the same including The Boudain Hut, Kings, Dylans, etc.

Not all speaking were in favor of changing the ordinance.

Constable Christopher Bates, chairman of the Smoke-Free Port Arthur Coalition, likened a smoke-free environment to the requirement of wearing a seatbelt — some would rather not, but the reality was it saved lives.

“This ordinance is important. If one life can be saved, it is worth it,” he said.

Bates said he wanted to look at the bar owners as heroes.

“We should look at you as a hero because you stepped outside for a few minutes to save a life,” Bates said.

District 2 Councilwoman Tiffany Hamilton, who led the charge on Council to adopt the Smoke-Free ordinance, said she was surprised by the vote.

The main focus of the ordinance was to protect employees from breathing second-hand smoke while at the workplace, she said.

“I am very grateful for all of the supporters for Smoke-Free Port Arthur. I want to express their efforts were not in vain and ask they please continue to be engaged in the government process,” Hamilton said.

Council’s decision to weaken the ordinance sends a negative message, she said.

“Their message says that the health and safety of employees in Port Arthur are not equal,” Hamilton said. “I also think there is a danger now that the other businesses and organizations may come out next week. We literally have begun to open Pandora’s Box.”

Hamilton, Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince and Councilwoman Charlotte Moses voted against Swati’s amendment.

In addition to allowing smoking in bars, the amendment allows one to light up in private clubs and in fraternal organizations.

Restaurants and all other public buildings remain smoke-free.

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