News Style: Smoking Banned in Travis County

Jan. 29, 2013

Smokers in Travis County will no longer be able to burn up on any public property.

Travis County Commissioner Court unanimously voted to prohibit the use of all cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes at the Jan. 29 meeting. Indoors and outdoors on all county property including parks, county building, and public streets are now off limits.

The commissioners say they passed the motion in an effort to improve the health of county employees. Advocates also say there are other benefits like protecting members of the community from second hand smoke and preserving the environment by reducing the litter, and reducing the odds of wildfires from cigarette butts.

Tobacco products are the most prevalent form of litter. If the cigarette butts in Travis County, alone, were lined up over the course of a year- they would stretch across all of Texas, According to Travis County Health and Human Services.

Not everyone is happy about the decision though. Josh Davis, smoker, is certainly more annoyed about it than anything. “It’s ridiculous. They shouldn’t have the right to legislate against my choices. I’m an adult; I can make my own decisions, why can’t I own them?”

During the county commissioner meeting, Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe asked about the enforcement of the policy, whether it would be “toothless,” or if there would be repercussions for violating the mandate. After some discussion, advocates said it would be in the hands of the county employers for offering counseling to those caught smoking.

Dr. Philip Huang, the medical director of Austin-Travis County was present at the meeting as a supporter for the law. “Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals including 250 known to cause harm. 69 known carcinogens.”

Miles Knight, a middle school teacher, after hearing about the ban said, “It’s a positive move to make Texas more health conscious. It’s a matter of someone else stepping on my pursuit of happiness. Why should I have to be exposed to smoke after I make the decision not to put that into my body?” He added, “They should do soda away with next.”

That implication of the passing of the law is exactly what Amanda Ghatti, University of Texas student, is upset about. “What’s next? Is Travis County going to tell me what I can and can’t eat? This is just the beginning of a slippery slope.”

According to recent data, from a study at Penn State, Texans pay about $7.5 billion each year to cover health-care costs related to tobacco use, which breaks down to $750 per household.

The ban will be effective, starting April 7. By then, warning signs will be posted. The signs are the only estimated expense, which will cost the county $8,000, of which Austin is plans to pay $5,000.

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