The Common Law

Austin smoking ordinance – what's the skinny?

People have lots of questions about the Austin smoking ordinance (the "ordinance") so I thought I would take the chance to address some of them.

There are a few regulars that still smoke at one of the bars I go to and it pisses me off that they don't respect the law and other people. How can I get someone to give them a ticket?

While the neighborly thing to do is ask them politely to stop, someone who wants to file a complaint about a violation of the smoking ordinance should call the city of Austin's Environmental and Consumer Health Unit at 972-5600. The ECHU will need the name of the establishment where the violation took place and its address, along with the date, time, and description of the violation. Keep in mind, however, that under current city of Austin practice, it will be the establishment where the smoking took place, and not the regulars who were doing the smoking, that will be cited or issued a notice of violation.

I'm a bartender – can I get a ticket if someone is smoking in the bar I work in?

Yes – if you were the person in charge of the bar at the time of the violation. The owner of the bar would be issued a legal notice when a violation is observed. But, if the owner of the bar was not present at the time of the violation, then the operator (i.e., the person in charge) would be issued the citation or notice of violation.

What places in Austin are exempt from the ordinance?

The ordinance lists a number of exceptions, of which some of the more notable include the following: residential dwelling unit (your home, in layman's terms), 25% of all hotel or motel rooms, retail tobacco stores, bingo facilities, and fraternal organizations.

People with more questions about the ordinance should check out the city of Austin's Web site (www.ci.austin.tx.us/health/ech_smokingord.htm).

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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