Rio Grande City looks to amend smoking ordinance

Rio Grande City will be updating its smoking ordinance soon after the city commissioners approved Wednesday the first reading of a more comprehensive smoking ban.

The new ordinance clarifies public spaces and changes some limits on where people can smoke, City Manager Alberto Perez told the city commissioners during a meeting.

“For example, we increased the distance from an entrance from 15 feet to 25 feet,” Perez said. “The misdemeanor changed from $200 to $2,000, and what’s being proposed is what’s being adopted by a lot of cities across the state of Texas.”

Speaking at the meeting in support of the move were smoke-free advocates who pushed for a smoking ban in all indoor spaces, including restaurants and bars.

“If you’re a restaurant or you’re a bar, you’re still allowed to have your smoking customers go outside to the patio, smoke their cigarettes and then come back in,” said Gerardo Acevedo with the American Heart Association.

Acevedo said there would be exceptions to the ban for cigar bars or businesses where the majority of sales come from tobacco products. Private clubs like a VFW Hall, owned by Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., or an Elks Lodge would also be exempt.

In 2011, Rio Grande City expanded a smoking ban by eliminating smoking in all sections of restaurants. The city’s previous ordinance, which had been passed earlier that year, allowed designated smoking areas that were separated by floor-to-ceiling partitions.

“Another thing to consider is that back in 2011, electronic cigarettes weren’t even in existence at that point,” Acevedo said. “There’s been a skyrocketing increase in the number of teens and youth that are getting addicted to nicotine by the vaping and electronic cigarettes that are marketed to youth with bubblegum and all these flavors that are marketed to kids. So this includes electronic cigarettes into the definition of smoking so that there’s no confusion on the enforcement of where people can smoke.”

The city commissioners unanimously approved the new ordinance but will have a second reading before it is enacted.

“I do believe individuals should be free from smoke in general and not have to inhale any of those toxins,” Mayor Joel Villarreal said Thursday regarding his view on the matter. 

“The big thing about the ordinance is that it’s not about telling people they can’t smoke,” Acevedo added. “It’s simply asking them if you’re going to smoke, just step outside so that your choice to smoke isn’t harming the health of everyone else that’s indoors.”