By Karen Daniels
For the second time this year, Stafford City Council will address the consideration of an ordinance banning smoking in public places. The first time was at the State of the City address held on January 25, 2012, at the Stafford Civic Center. Of the three people who addressed the Council that night, no one mentioned smoking. This summer, residents and business owners will get the chance again to voice their thoughts and concerns regarding a smoke-free Stafford.
Before opening the discussion to Council and the public in attendance at last week’s city Council meeting, Mayor Scarcella established up front that he is a non-smoker and understands that smoking is hazardous to everyone’s health. He added that “too much government can restrict businesses from doing business” and explained that the City does not have to pass an ordinance to restrict smoking. Restaurants have the power to post a sign to ban smoking at their establishments. The Mayor wants the Council to consider the possible economic impact on Stafford businesses and consider where exactly to draw the line. Should the ordinance be comprehensive and cover all public places or limited and just cover businesses that sell food? And what category would bars and hotels fall in?
All of the Councilmember’s expressed that both sides have “compelling arguments” but Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem, Felecia Evans-Smith, stated that she is in favor of a limited ordinance banning smoking in family restaurants. Students and teachers of Stafford and T.A.T.U. (Teens Against Tobacco Use) spoke in favor of an ordinance citing health concerns and the mixed messages they receive on tobacco use. They reminded the Council that Sugar Land, Missouri City, and Rosenberg have passed similar ordinances. (Richmond has not.) Mike O’Connell spoke against the ordinance on behalf of the Pour House Pub. He explained that customers have told him they come to his place because they can smoke, and advised that children are not allowed in their establishment. He feels a broad stroke ordinance will negatively impact his business.
The date of the public hearing will be announced at the April 18 Board meeting; the latter part of June was suggested. The City of Stafford plans to hold the hearing at the Civic Center to accompany all the residents and business owners who wish to voice their opinions.