Despite expressing interest in adopting a citywide smoking ordinance, the La Joya city council tabled action on that matter during their Tuesday city council meeting because the public had not had time to comment on the proposal.
The city council was set to hear a presentation from the Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition (TPCC) on an ordinance that would’ve banned smoking indoors in public places, similar to one passed in the city of Mission in June 2016. However, City Administrator Mike Alaniz recommended to the council that any action be postponed, citing a lack of feedback from the community.
“I believe it’s a good ordinance. It’s something that we practice already but our citizens aren’t aware we’re considering this,” Alaniz told the council members during the meeting.
The ordinance would require smokers to be at least 25 feet from public buildings, said TPCC Coordinator Gilda Bowen, who presented the proposed ordinance to the council for informational purposes. Failure to comply with the ordinance would result in a $200 fine for a first offense followed by $500 and $2,000 fines for a second and third offense, respectively.
After the meeting, Alaniz said councilmembers will probably discuss the ordinance again during the April 11 city council meeting. Residents who want to express their opinion on the proposed ordinance should either contact their councilmember or attend the April 11 meeting.
Despite the tabling, city council members questioned Bowen how the ordinance would be executed, leading to a presentation that lasted about eight minutes. During the presentation, Bowen said if La Joya adopts the ordinance it would become the 9th city in the county to adopt the ordinance and the 11th city in the Valley overall within the last 18 months.
“Different cities have handled it differently,” Bowen said. “All of the cities have followed the same ordinances with just a few variances such as different distances for smokers or waiting up to 120 days to implement the ordinance. Not everyone in the county smokes so this ordinance will just even the playing field between the non-smokers and smokers.”
According to a Dec. 20, 2016 fact sheet published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, per the CDC.
Before the meeting Bowen said the ordinance was created mainly for employees in the hospitality field such as bartenders, hosts and waiters to help people who may suffer from secondhand smoke every day.
“Anyone working those careers at an eight-hour shift face the dangers of secondhand smoke, which is equivalent to smoking 36 cigarettes in eight hours,” she said. “In the Valley, only 13 percent of the population smokes but we want to focus on protecting anyone working in an indoor workplace.”
La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas said he was willing to wait to see what his citizens think of the ordinance before taking any more action.
“I don’t smoke, I’ve never smoked in my whole life and I want this ordinance,” he said. “As the mayor though, I really believe we need to give the community a chance to give us some input to tell us what they recommend. They put us here and we need to respect that.”
After the meeting, Alaniz said he would not be surprised if the city ended up passing the ordinance. Alaniz said he has yet to see anyone smoking inside local restaurants and stores and the ordinance would only strengthen that attitude.
“I’ve never seen the police be called to the scene of someone smoking in a restaurant, but I feel that this is an important ordinance,” Alaniz said. “You hear everyday how someone dies from smoking or cancer so I really think this is an ordinance that will save lives. We’re just getting in writing how we’re in support of this.”