More ET Cities, Schools Mull Smoking Bans
By KELLY GOOCH
It's becoming harder to light up in East Texas as health officials and cities make efforts to improve residents' well-being.
In February, Bullard City Council members unanimously decided to amend the current smoking ban, which pertains to enclosed city buildings and facilities, to include the city park.
Later that month, Jacksonville City Council members unanimously approved an ordinance restricting smoking tobacco products within city limits, and in April, Athens eliminated smoking in public places and places of employment.
These cities followed a wave among other area entities. Tyler, Whitehouse, Troup, Henderson and Mineola are just some of the cities that have adopted regulations. Tyler Junior College also banned smoking on campus in 2010.
Now, the city of Henderson and a student group at The University of Texas at Tyler are the latest to look at new smoking regulations.
East Texas cities and schools aren't the only entities trying to curb smoking issues.
Stephanie Taylor, public information officer with the Northeast Texas Public Health District, has said the district recently received a $737,323 grant opportunity from the Department of State Health Services called Transforming Texas, which will focus on exposure to secondhand smoke, tobacco control, healthy living, physical activity, good nutrition, and the built-in environment, such as parks and trails, in Smith, Van Zandt and Wood counties. There is also a component for chronic disease prevention to focus on blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar control at the individual level.
According to the Department of State Health Services website, Transforming Texas seeks to reduce death and disability because of tobacco use by 5 percent.
George Roberts, chief executive officer with the health district, said officials are checking on the status of smoke-free ordinances with municipalities in Smith, Wood and Van Zandt counties to determine which entities have smoke free ordinances and which ones are looking at it.
"We hope through particularly the smoking phase that if more communities will adopt smoke free ordinances, we can reduce the number of people (exposed to) secondhand smoke ...," Roberts said.
"We very much want people to have the right to choose but when your efforts impact my health than that's an issue."
Claudia Morgan-Gray, chairwoman of the Henderson Main Street Advisory Board, said some downtown merchants asked board members if they could look into a smoke-free downtown. The city already prohibits smoking in public facilities and at city parks.
"We (want to work) with downtown merchants to see if we can come up with something (as far as a proposal)," Ms. Gray said. "It's been more of a litter issue."
Henderson City Manager Mike Barrow said he knows smoking has been a problem around the Henderson Civic Theatre downtown because people smoke around a small sidewalk outside -- the same place attendees can meet and greet the actors after a show.
Nancy Gibson, owner of Nancy G's Salon, said some businesses currently have "no smoking" signs outside their door.
The issue could be up for discussion as early as July 12. However, any future research or discussion on the possibility will be up to the board.
At The University of Texas at Tyler, the Student Government Association voted on a resolution for a tobacco-free campus within its general assembly and put that resolution on the spring ballot as an optional survey, according to an email from SGA president Michael Suarez.
He said students were notified of the survey before and after completing the ballot, and results showed that 57 percent of the students who voted elected to take the survey.
A majority of survey participants supported a tobacco-free campus with 59 percent in favor, 21 percent against and 20 percent voting under the category of "neutral."
Suarez said via email that he forwarded the resolutions to administration, and the SGA is involved in the process.
"SGA recognized that we were one of the few remaining UT Systems school that had not yet implemented a tobacco-free campus initiative," Suarez wrote in an email. "The goal of the effort, of course, was to join the rest of the UT System schools in their
efforts to promote healthier living choices on college campuses."
He said implementation of the resolution is in the hands of the administration, which, along with the opinion of the SGA, will work to implement a plan "that is most satisfactory for the campus and its students."
Whatever the plan, he said students who violated the policy would face consequences to be determined at a later date.
"I would like our resolution to take effect immediately, but only if the plan is meticulously outlined and detailed in order to make this a smooth transition," Suarez said via email.
In the meantime, students at UT Tyler have mixed opinions on the issue.
Lauren Holcek, a sophomore studying art, said she personally would be OK with or without a ban.
"A lot of art students smoke in areas that are all by entrances ... but I don't think it's too big of an issue. People aren't doing it everywhere I go," she said.
Emma Woolverton, a sophomore studying accounting, said she thinks a ban would be good because of secondhand smoke.
"We have smoking spots, but you do have it right in the entrances of buildings," she said. "You can't get away from it."
Matthew Crawford, a former smoker who is transferring this fall from Tyler Junior College to UT Tyler, said he believes a ban is a good thing as far as campus cleanliness, but students still will smoke where they can.
While UT Tyler students look to bring new regulations to the table, entities that recently issued bans claim the measures rolled out smoothly.
Bullard Mayor Pam Frederick said she no longer sees people smoking near the city park on their lunch break like they were, so she thinks the initiative was a positive thing.
"We wanted our park to have a family friendly environment and protect the health of our children as well," she said. "I think we're seeing a difference ... I think we have a lot of voluntary compliance with it. I think that people are respecting the ordinance."
Jacksonville City Manager Mo Raissi said he hasn't heard anyone call and complain since Jacksonville's ban was put in place or seen any businesses indicate that it has been a detriment to them. The ordinance primarily affected restaurants such as Chili's and Jalepeno Tree.
As far as violations, Jacksonville Assistant Police Chief John Page said he doesn't think the police department has filed any related cases since the ban went into effect.
For Roxy Weese, a Tyler Junior College nursing student who smokes, the school's ban also has not had a big effect.
"I accept it. I can smoke in the parking lot ..." she said as she
had a cigarette. "It doesn't bother me. I like sitting out here anyway."