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illustration by Mike Krone SNUFFED How Big Tobacco fended off a statewide smoking ban. BY MELISSA DEL BOSQUE 0 n a chilly January day, Lance Armstrong and a coalition of anti-smoking groups joined legislators on the steps of the Capitol to announce that the days of puffing in Texas bars and restaurants would soon be over. A new poll indicated that 68 percent of Texans favored a statewide smoking ban, Armstrong told the crowd. “The first job of government is to protect the people,” he said, “and today, the people of Texas are sending a clear message to their elected representatives: They want protection from secondhand smoke.” Four months later, as Armstrong competed in the Giro d’Italia bicycle race, the smoking ban bill was pronounced dead. Authored by Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, the legislation would have prohibited smoking in indoor public places, including government offices and bars. At a news conference on May 19, supporters including Ellis and Rep. Myra Crownover, a Denton Republican who authored the companion bill in the House, admitted defeat. In full Senatorial mode, Ellis waxed diplomatic. “Members were acting in good faith and trying to 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 26, 2009 find common ground on a tough issue,” he said. “Myra and I are not bitter because we couldn’t get the votes in the Senate.” James Gray of the American Cancer Society had more pointed words about the bill’s failure. “Apparently our supporters couldn’t overcome the deep pockets of Big Tobacco,” he said. “They were very good at killing this bill this session. Once again, politics has trumped public health here in the Texas Capitol.” How did a high-profile bill with such widespread public support end up on the scrap heap of failed legislation? Stealth lobbying, Ellis and other advocates later told the Observer. In 2007, when the smoking ban was first floated, lobbyists for tobacco companies were vocal in their opposition, swarming the Capitol and ensuring that the bill was so loaded up with qualifying amendments that it teetered and sank. Ellis ended up pulling the bill back because it had been neutered, exempting bars and allowing broad exemptions for city ordinances already on the books. “I had to withdraw the bill rather than allow it to be gutted:’ Ellis said. This time around, with the tide of public sentiment so strong against them, Big Tobacco’s well-paid minions adopted ninja tactics, lobbying members behind closed doors and over the telephone. “You didn’t see them, but you knew they were there said Kristin Voinis, spokeswoman for Smoke Free Texas, a nonprofit group that spearheaded the grassroots push for the ban. Tobacco companies invested heavily in lobbying during the 2009 session, hiring 40 lobbyists and paying them as much as $2.4 million collectively to kill the ban, according to the Dallas Morning News. It was money well spent. Again and again, Voinis