Bar Patrons

Warning: Tobacco companies' advertising money may be addictive in Houston's club scene

One local advocate of anti-smoking ordinances is Tobacco Free Houston. Originally, the group's intention was to eliminate smoking from public places entirely. That didn't get through City Council without compromise after tobacco lobbyists made their pitches. Now the group is attempting to at least cut down smoking in restaurants, hotels and live-music clubs.

James Knight, the leader of the group, quotes independent surveys by Austin's Teleresources as showing that Houstonians not only favor smoking bans, but think they would go out more often to bars and restaurants if the ban were in place. He sees the ordinance as a threat to $26 million per year in cigarette sales, something tobacco lobbyists are not going to surrender lightly.

And those lobbyists have a lot of influence, he says. Knight says he keeps a list of the 20 lobbyists who lobby in Washington for the city of Houston, and says that half of them also work for tobacco companies.

In this escalating battle, almost no one -- the bars, the bands, even the anti-tobacco groups -- is free from the reach of the tobacco dollars.

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