House panel votes to clarify smoking ban, narrow cigar exemption
DENVER – Acknowledging the indoor smoking ban they passed last year wasn’t very clear, lawmakers on Monday tried to amend the new law and close loopholes so authorities could enforce it.Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said bars claimed exemptions from the smoking ban and authorities responding to complaints that customers were still puffing away had no way to determine which bars qualified as cigar bars because of the amount of tobacco they sold each year.The House Health & Human Services Committee approved a bill changing the term “tobacco products” to “cigars or cigar tobacco” to make it clear cigarette sales were not included. The measure now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.”It’s about putting power behind what the Legislature did a year ago,” Roberts said.Robert Orio, a Durango bar owner, said he tried to comply with the new law but La Plata County District Attorney Craig Westberg threw the book at him, charging him with violating the smoking ban.Orio said he finally won his case, but not before a long court battle.Orio said he opposes the new legislation (House Bill 1108) because he can’t afford to buy a $100,000 humidor that would qualify him for an exemption.”If I lose my business, I’m done, I’m gone,” Orio told lawmakers.Westberg said he had to file charges because the law was so poorly written, he couldn’t tell if customers were violating the smoking ban. He said the city wasted a lot of time and money trying to sort out the legal issues.”That is the woeful state of affairs in my jurisdiction,” he told lawmakers.Under the smoking ban that went into effect July 1, casinos, some airport lounges and cigar bars are exempt. But many taverns that sold a lot of cigarettes before the law took effect said they qualified as cigar bars because the Colorado Indoor Air Act covered “tobacco products,” rather than specifying cigars.Complaints have been lodged against at least 40 businesses statewide for allowing smoking, but many of those businesses were seeking cigar-bar status, Kim Hills-Evans, executive director of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance, told lawmakers.
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