A good day in smoking bans?

It doesn’t happen often enough, so here are two pieces of good news related to smoking bans. First, Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited smoking in all California parks and beaches:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday vetoed a measure that would have banned smoking at state parks and beaches, calling it “an improper intrusion of government into people’s lives.”

Schwarzenegger, whose cigar habit led him to build a smoking tent at the state Capitol, said in his veto message that the proposed regulation, which would have been the most far-reaching tobacco legislation in the nation, went too far. Such rules should be left up to cities, counties and local park officials, the governor said.

“There is something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of the state encroaching in such a broad manner on the people of California,” the veto message said. “This bill crosses an important threshold between state power … and local decision-making.”

Then just a few minutes from my hometown in Conroe, TX, the city council has reversed a ban on smoking in bars in record time:

Two months after enacting one of the most comprehensive smoking bans in the area, the Conroe City Council has removed bars from the new ordinance because of the economic impact it was having on business owners.

“I lost $15,000 in March,” said David Luttrell of Malone’s Pub. “It was like someone pulled a switch. I lost $15,000 in April. I had to lay off four employees and seven bands. It has also affected my suppliers and vendors too.”

After hearing similar stories from other bar owners, the council reversed its position Thursday to allow smoking in bar, which are defined as “pubs, ice houses, beer joints and saloons.”

[Hat tips to the Stogie Guys and my dad.]


Where to eat/drink in Houston?

I’ll be back in my hometown December 25-29. Obviously I want to stop in at Anvil, where bartender Bobby Heugel is serving up creative cocktails. And word is David Buehrer has finally brought great coffee to Houston with his Tuscany Coffee. Good Tex-Mex is a must and easy to find. I’d usually consider barbecue essential, but Podnah’s Pit in Portland is such a good fix that I might do without. Where else should I visit?


Texas trans fat blues

This is a bad week for consumer freedom in my native Texas (where, incidentally, I enjoyed two chicken fried steaks, barbecue lunches, a Tex-Mex feast, several bottles of Shiner, and Dublin Dr Pepper this weekend). The statewide smoking ban looks very close to passing and the Senate is considering a bill to ban trans fats from restaurants. The AP lists the exceptions included in the latter bill:

But, fearing a backlash from the sweet tooth lobby, the lawmakers provided an exemption for trans fats used to make cakes, pies and other bakery items.

“The icing exemption,” is what Democratic Sen. Eliot Shapleigh called the loophole, explaining that cake icing doesn’t stay put without the hydrogen pumped into the oil – the very process that makes trans fats unhealthy.

Other exemptions were provided for food served by grocery stores, fire departments and certain caterers, and the ban would be slowly phased in. Initially, it would impact only chain establishments. It would apply to all Texas restaurants by late 2011.

Another loophole – for nonprofit organizations – was inserted in part to ensure that corn dogs and other fried goodies served at rodeos and state fairs could still be cooked with trans fat.

And, of course, consumers could still by entire tubs of shortening at the grocery store if they’re in the mood. All of which shows the absurdity of this ban. If trans fats are a dangerous toxin, they shouldn’t be allowed at state fairs or catering events. But they’re not toxins. They’re just another food ingredient, and there’s no justification for forbidding restaurant chefs to use them when they’re readily available elsewhere.

If the Texas legislature insists on doing something about trans fats, it should follow the lead of San Francisco. The city allowed restaurants to apply for seals certifying them to be trans fat free, thus preserving choice and giving consumers the information they might wish to know. Unfortunately, that sensible idea was made irrelevant by California’s statewide ban.


Who knew?

David Tufte at voluntaryXchange catches a bit of snobbish elitism in Jim Atkinson’s New York Times travel article about how there are actually some nice things in Texas. “Who knew?” he asks repeatedly. Here’s the line that stood out:

This may be just as well with some Amarillans, who are a culturally obstinate breed (many city restaurants still have smoking sections, for example).

Good heavens, allowing people to freely associate and do what they please together! How quaint and uncivilized these Texans are.