Debate on cigarette ban is still smoking |

Debate on cigarette ban is still smoking

COPPER MOUNTAIN – About the only thing that’s changed in the argument over a proposed smoking ban in restaurants and bars is the intensity of the debate on both sides of the bar.

That much was apparent during two restaurant association meetings this week when neither Summit Prevention Alliance representatives nor restaurateurs could convince the other side to change their minds about whether smoking should be allowed in public places, including restaurants and bars.

Restaurant and bar owners don’t want the government telling them what to do and say the free market should determine how many restaurants go smoke-free.

Laurie Blackwell, tobacco prevention coordinator for the Summit Prevention Alliance, cited statistics of people who have died from second-hand smoke and said employees’ health is compromised when they have to work for hours on end in a smoky environment.

And if the choice is to be based on the free market, Blackwell added, restaurant owners should take heed that 83 percent of Summit County residents over the age of 18 don’t smoke.

“Remember Mr. Steak restaurants?” said Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA). “If you have 83 percent of your customers coming in and asking, “Do you have chicken? Do you have chicken?’ You might put chicken on the menu. You might even change your name to Mr. Chicken. An initiative or law (doesn’t necessarily reflect the desires of the market).

Denver-based CRA has taken the stand that individual bar owners should make the decision whether smoking is permitted in their establishment.

Others say the proposed ban unfairly singles out restaurants.

“Tackle smoking in houses where children are,” said Larry Caveny of Salsa Mountain Cantina in Copper Mountain. “Then we’d jump right in because we wouldn’t feel like the whipping boy. But you wouldn’t do that because the people would say they don’t want you coming into their houses and telling them what to do. Well, same here.”

Addressing equity, Blackwell said it’s also a health standard matter.

“You’re talking about something deadly,” she said. “You’re talking about something that’s carcinogenic. So it’s not OK to tell someone you have carcinogens in your restaurant, but it’s OK to tell someone they have to wash their hands and wear a hairnet?”

Local restaurateurs might not have a choice in the smoking debate.

A citizen group called SmokeFree Summit plans to put an initiative on the November ballot asking voters to ban smoking in all public areas in the county – including workplaces, bars and restaurants. Then they’ll work to get towns to do the same.

Restaurant owners, however, say a county ban will create an unfair playing field because the towns won’t be required to abide by the county’s ban. In theory, smokers might gravitate to restaurants out of town – at a time when restaurant business is shaky.

Instead, Bobby Starekow, owner of Silverheels at the Ore House in Frisco, suggested representatives from SmokeFree Summit – none of whom were in attendance – and Blackwell educate bar owners about second-hand smoke and slowly encourage them to change their policies rather than demand it through government action.

Jane Stebbins can be reached

at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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