smoking in texas cstores debated

Retailers may face difficult choice: smoking or lottery sales.

A provision in a 17-year-old law that protects the rights of the disabled could effectively ban smoking in virtually every convenience store in Texas, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star Telegram reported.

An attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, argued before the Texas Lottery Commission to deny convenience stores that allow on-premises smoking the privilege of selling lottery tickets because people with severe respiratory ailments put their health at risk if they go inside. To allow ticket vendors to set their own smoking policies “would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s mandate that guarantees meaningful access to government services and programs,” the report said.

The commission, which oversees lottery operations, said it would need up to two months to consider whether it has the obligation and the authority to tie ticket-selling licenses to the smoking policies of retailers. But during question-and-answer sessions with the witnesses, the commissioners appeared skeptical of the argument. And a lawyer for the agency said such a move could actually backfire if retailers opted to quit selling lottery tickets if it meant forcing their customers to snuff out their cigarettes.

Lottery commission staffers could not say how many of the 16,000 Texas retailers that sell lottery tickets allow smoking in their stores. But they did say that most of the state’s larger cities already have ordinances that restrict smoking in most public places.

Chris Newton, president of the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association, said if smoking was banned in places where lottery tickets are sold it would likely have a far-reaching effect, especially in rural areas, where local governments typically don’t regulate where residents may light up.

“Right now, we’re polling our membership to get a sense of how big the impact might be,” Newton said. “Obviously, it wouldn’t matter in cities that already regulate smoking, but there are a lot of places, especially in rural parts of the state, where the local convenience store is the gathering place where you’ll find folks sitting down to have a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette.”

Newton said it would be difficult to predict how many, if any, retailers would opt out of the lottery-ticket business just to allow their customers the ability to smoke. “Retailers only net 5 cents on the dollar for each lottery ticket they sell, while the [profit] margin is a considerably more on snacks, soft drinks, beer and cigarettes,” he said. “But what we do find is that people who come in to buy a lottery ticket often do leave with some of those other products, and that’s why they continue to sell the lottery tickets.”

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