In the last five years, Texas cities have been crushing out cigarettes and other tobacco products in restaurants, bars and worksites at a faster rate than ever before. The trend toward non-smoking ordinances is one of many findings of the Texas Smoke-Free Ordinance Database created and maintained at the University of Houston to categorize and track the progress of smoking policies in Texas cities.
"This database is a one of kind system that allows policy makers, advocates and concerned citizens to find out what's happening at the state and county levels on the issue of second hand smoke," Phyllis Gingiss, professor of public health education in the UH department of health and human performance, said.
The database is funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services and can be accessed at txshsord.coe.uh.edu/
Currently there are 240 Texas cities with smoking ordinances. More than a quarter of those were passed since 2000.
Users of the Texas Smoke-Free Ordinance Database can conduct searches using a city's population or percentage of minorities as criteria. They can access summaries of various ordinances in the state, select areas of interest such as bars and restaurants, or search by a specific city.
"Some users of the database are from cities that want to check out current ordinances. Others are considering new or revised ordinances, but want to check how other cities word their policies," Gingiss said. "Other users include police officers who want to see how other cities enforce their smoking ordinances."
The database is part of a larger HHP program called the Health Network for Evaluation and Training System (HNETS). HNETS provides training and technical assistance to schools, communities and healthcare organizations seeking to promote health and wellness. Activities include tobacco prevention studies, as well as research into health insurance coverage for tobacco cessation, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
"It is interesting to see is how the non-smoking ordinances have become more restrictive over the years," Gingiss said. "The emphasis for restaurants and businesses used to be just on ventilation, but since it has been established that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke, the trend is to become a completely smoke-free public place."
With the recent release of the U. S. Surgeon General's report that details the health hazards of second-hand smoke, use of the database has greatly increased, Gingiss said.
Other Texas Smoke-Free Ordinance Database findings include:
- Texas cities that implemented 100 percent smoke free ordinances in the last five years are Austin, Beaumont, Copperas Cove, El Paso and Laredo.
- 46 percent of cities with smoking ordinances also require municipal worksites to be 100 percent smoke-free.
- Two out of three smoking ordinances have an enforcement authority, usually a law officer.
- 48 percent of ordinances assign penalties to business for violations; 81 percent provide penalties to smokers.
Gingiss has conducted health research for more than 25 years and is the author of nearly 200 publications. Much of her research has focused on understanding and addressing the needs and concerns of children and youth and how their families, schools, communities, health-care providers and public policies can support those needs. She is currently actively working on the Texas Tobacco Prevention Initiative to track and monitor changes in schools, communities and managed care organizations regarding tobacco prevention and control.