County debates smoking ban referendum
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County voters might get the chance to ban smoking in bars and restaurants if the county commissioners decide to place a referendum on the November ballot, a possibility they are studying.
Commissioners have until late August to decide whether to put the question to a vote, and in the interim, they plan to hold public meetings to solicit input.
According to County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, the ballot question would ask voters if commissioners should draft an ordinance banning smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. The referendum would be put to a countywide vote, and if voters approve it, smoking would only be banned in establishments in unincorporated Summit County, including Keystone, Copper Mountain, Farmer’s Korner and Heeney.
But because precinct lines usually coincide with town boundaries, town officials will be able to determine how their citizens feel about a ban. From that, they could choose to implement bans of their own.
The issue has been smoldering for several months after Lindstrom proposed a countywide ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. Currently, Denver policymakers are debating a smoking ordinance. A sticking point in their proposal is whether smoking will be allowed in bars and not restaurants or if it will be banned from all eating and drinking establishments.
County commissioners are researching ordinances in Pueblo, Snowmass Village, Pitkin County, Fort Collins and Louisville.
Residents have been debating a smoking ban for months, with smokers and non-smokers coming out in both opposition and in favor of a ban. A committee calling itself Smoke-free Summit also is discussing how to approach town and county officials and if a ballot initiative is the best way to go.
Opinions about a ban run the gamut.
Some are concerned about the health of restaurant and bar employees. Others say they don’t like the idea of government intervening in peoples’ personal lives. Still others say any such ban should be the decision of a bar or restaurant owner.
Currently, smoking is banned in about 60 bars and restaurants in Summit County.
Lindstrom said arguments against a smoking ban are without merit.
“(Commissioner) Bill (Wallace) always says this is government interfering in peoples’ lives. Ever since he’s said that, whenever we do something, I say, “This is government messing in people’s personal life.’ I can give you 10,000 examples of ways government messes in peoples’ personal lives. People need to be protected from themselves.”
Lindstrom said he’s heard a wide array of misinformation about cigarette bans since people started debating the issue this year.
Others have compared smoking with driving, saying people have the right to smoke.
But, smoking ban proponents said smoking, like driving, is a privilege, and if anyone has a right, it’s the right of people to breathe clean air.
“I heard one woman saying she really hoped a ban wouldn’t go into effect because she wouldn’t be able to go home and smoke,” Lindstrom said. “People have extrapolated it to no smoking in your car, or outside, or at home, in lift lines or on lifts. People say we tried Prohibition, and it didn’t work. We’re not saying people can’t smoke; we’re saying people can’t smoke in certain places. People can smoke their brains out outside, if they want.”
Although Lindstrom, an ex-smoker, supports a smoking ban, he emphasized that commissioners have not decided whether to put a question on the ballot – much less, implement a ban.
“We have not had public process,” he said. “We have not had the opportunity for people to come in and talk to us. We have to have public meetings before making a decision about putting it on the ballot.”
Laurie Blackwell, tobacco prevention coordinator for the Summit Prevention Alliance, said when municipalities implement smoking bans, the number of kids who take up smoking drops dramatically and the number of smokers who try to quit skyrockets.
“It doesn’t take very long once a town goes smoke-free to see the changes start to happen,” she said. “Once there aren’t as many places to go, they stop. And 85 percent of smokers want to quit. That’s what I’m in the business for. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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