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Eatery owners say smoking restrictions violate their rights

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The Ellis County Press

ELLIS COUNTY - A recent Dallas Morning News endorsement called for the Dallas mayor to encourage area suburbs to adopt smoking bans in restaurants, but some Ellis County business owners have made it abundantly clear such ordinances won't fly here, and more importantly, would violate private property rights.

A smoking ban for both restaurants and bars is currently being debated among Dallas City Council members, who claim public health is vital when doing business in the city.

'I've got probably only 20 customers who do smoke - they're regular customers,' said Bob Green, manager of Henrietta's Tex-Mex in Ovilla.

'If you lose 40 to 50 clientele [because of a smoking ordinance], it's got to hurt.

'I don't see how someone could say that it won't hurt.'

But it's precisely what the Morning News claims.

'Members of the Dallas Restaurant Association fear that patrons will flock to the suburbs if Dallas adopts a smoking ban,' the Nov. 30 endorsement stated.

'But polls indicate Dallas residents overwhelmingly in favor of removing smoke from public places.

'Eating establishments employ more than 100,000 workers and contribute billions of dollars to the local economy. City officials have no desire to harm this important source of jobs and revenue,' the endorsement stated.

The Morning News didn't indicate where or how the polls were conducted, but did recommend cities take a regional approach to combat smoking in not only restaurants, but also all public places.

Representatives from Dallas eateries have said revenue losses could reach 40 percent or more if the smoking ban is approved and many fear patrons will travel to out-of-city restaurants as a result.

The underlying issue, most business owners said, isn't the public's health, but private property rights.

When asked if local governments should legally mandate private business owners to restrict a particular habit, many said no.

'It's getting bad if you can't smoke in your car, your restaurant or your home,' said Jenny Burnett, owner of Jenny's Café in Palmer. 'It's Communist for [cities to ban] smoking in restaurants. Hate to say it, but it is. That's your private business.'

A law passed two years ago in Florida restricts teenage motorists from smoking in their car, and recently, a Maryland town banned residents from smoking near or in their home after one complained of having to smell cigarette smoke.

The Maryland ordinance was later struck down after citizens there claimed the local city council was too 'Marxist,' a reference to Karl Marx, considered the 'father' of modern-day Communism.

'Most people who come in here are regulars and they smoke. There's no complaints here,' Burnett said. 'But I would be fighting [if Palmer adopted a smoking ban].'

Jane Mize, Director of Marketing at Ennis Regional Medical Center, said children exposed to second-hand smoke have increased risks of respiratory illnesses and infections and that people who quit smoking, regardless of age, live longer than people who continue to smoke. Those statistics are some of what the Morning News and Dallas City Council provides for their argument.

'I get the point [about property rights], but I shouldn't have to walk through smoke to go sit down and eat,' said Amy Martinez, a student at Navarro College in Waxahachie. 'Why do people have to smoke when they're eating anyway?'

Ferris' Melvin Jones said the way restaurants divide the smoking and non-smoking sections is efficient.

'The same people who are aggravated by the smoke are the same ones aggravated by what's on TV,' Jones said. 'That's why they make remotes - so they can go where they went.'

And not all restaurants would be negatively affected by a smoking ban, said Dan High, manager of Waxahachie's Applebee's.

'If everyone would conform to the same [ordinance], there wouldn't be a problem,' said High. 'If it's the same ‘coast-to-coast,' then okay. If I did it and they [other restaurants] didn't, then we would have a problem.'

High also said a smoking ban would be different to other eateries, because all restaurants aren't the same.

'We're not in the same playing field.'

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