Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

March 10, 2011

Smoke-free bill to save $404 million

JACKSONVILLE — The Texas House Public Health Committee voted to pass House Bill 670 (8-2) out of committee on Wednesday, inching the state closer to legislation that would ban smoking in workplaces, such as bars and restaurants.

“A statewide smoke-free workplace law would improve the health and well-being of Texans across the state and would benefit the Texas economy by providing significant cost savings for businesses and taxpayers,” said Melinda Little, co-chairperson of the Smoke-Free Texas Coalition.

According to a study by the Texas Health Institute, The University of Texas School of Public Health and the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, the bill, if passed, would save Texas $404 million biennially by reducing health care costs by $250 million and upping productivity gains by $154 million biennially

The bill would save an estimated $31 million in Medicaid expenses for the 2012-13 biennium, estimates The Health and Human Services Commission. Over a five-year span, the bill would save $83 million.

“House Bill 670 will save millions of dollars and thousands of lives,” said Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton), who authored the bill in January.

The bill, if passed into law, would prohibit smoking in public places, including restaurants, bars, sports arenas, indoor workplaces, and within 15 feet of building entrances, windows and ventilation systems. Restaurant and bar patios, tobacco bars, tobacco shops and private residences would be exempt from the law.

Violation of the law would be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $50. An owner, manager, or employer who violates the law would receive a fine not to exceed $100.

A bipartisan group of more than 45 Texas House members authored or co-authored House Bill 670.

Rep. Chuck Hopson, a pharmacist at CVS in Jacksonville, said he co-authored the bill with the intention of raising awareness of the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke.

“As a pharmacist, we have more people that have things happen to them because of smoking than we do (nonsmoking-related) cancer and heart trouble,” Hopson said. “It’s very, very important for me as a health care provider to make people cognizant of how dangerous it is.”

Senate Bill 355 (5-3), authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) in January, also proposes a statewide smoke-free workplace law. It was passed out of committee on Tuesday by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

“The passage of House Bill 670 and Senate Bill 355 out of the respective committees this week contributes to  the increasing momentum for a statewide smoke-free workplace law in Texas,” Little said. “We are excited about the rapid  movement of the bills throughout the legislature thus far and look forward to the road ahead.”

Both bills have a few more big step to take before they can become law. House Bill 670 must be voted on by the House, passed out of Senate committee, voted on by the Senate and sent to Governor Rick Perry, before becoming law.

Seeing the smoke-free law come to fruition may take some time, Hopson said.

“We tried (to make the bill into law) in the last two legislative sessions. It never has passed,” he said. “The shortest it would be, would be a month.”  

According to a study conducted by Baselice & Associates, Inc., 70 percent of Texas voters favor a statewide smoke-free workplace law, and 90 percent indicated that they would go out to bars and restaurants more often or as often as they do now if the bill is passed.

If passed, the law will take effect on Sept. 1, 2011.

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