Is smoking here to stay?
SUMMIT COUNTY – State Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, always gets e-mails from concerned constituents. But even she was surprised when she returned to work Monday and found scores of e-mails asking for her support in one arena: clean air ordinances and smoking bans in Colorado.
“Did something happen over the weekend that I missed?” she said. “There are tons of them.”
The e-mails could, indeed, have been sent by citizens who support a smoking ban. Or, they could be a ruse backed by the tobacco industry.
Colorado has seen a spike in the number of towns and counties enacting smoking bans, much to the chagrin of many bar and restaurant owners and the tobacco industry. Summit County voters will decide on the issue Nov. 4. If approved, smoking will be banned in all unincorporated areas of the county, notably Keystone and Copper Mountain resorts.
But all the work to get the issue to the ballot – spearheaded by SmokeFree Summit – could be for naught.
Smoking opponents fear tobacco companies might put enough pressure on state legislators to enact laws that would preempt any smoking ban towns implement in the upcoming months.
“It’s not imminent,” said Laurie Blackwell, Summit Prevention Alliance’s tobacco cessation coordinator. “But it (the threat) is always out there.”
Preemptive legislation removes local control over an issue and puts it under the umbrella of the state. But while statewide legislation might sound sweeping, often that legislation is so weak it’s worthless, Blackwell said.
Fitz-Gerald said she hasn’t heard any talk at the Capitol regarding any kind of preemptive legislation geared toward tobacco.
According to the American Medical Association, a preemptive law regarding smoking could be written to say local municipalities can’t have stronger smoking bans than the state. Similar preemptive legislation, lobbied for by the gun industry, erased Colorado’s local gun laws and barred local governments from making gun control laws more restrictive than the state’s.
Often, Blackwell said, the legislation that policymakers eventually pass merely implies that they believe it’s a good idea to have smoking regulations. Many ban local municipalities from addressing smoking bans in the future.
“The more cities that begin working on smoke-free legislation, the more the legislators begin to talk about preemption,” Blackwell said. “If the tobacco companies see Colorado is working toward this, they’ll come in and work with the restaurant associations. The restaurant associations talk to local people, the local people put letters in the paper saying, “Why should we do this? We can just wait for the state to do it.’ What the state does is not going to be anything more than we have now – smoking and nonsmoking sections.”
The ballot question in Summit County will ask whether to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. Town officials could then extrapolate data from the voting results to see how their residents voted about smoking in public places. From there, town councils could decide whether to enact smoking bans.
Most restaurateurs and bar owners are not in favor of any ban, saying a countywide ban would merely drive their smoking customers to the towns where smoking is still allowed.
Blackwell helps people quit smoking, but is not involved in the SmokeFree Summit campaign or the smoking ban question on the Nov. 4 ballot. She’s been keeping tabs on the issue, however, because whenever a smoking ban is put in place, the number of people who try to quit jumps dramatically. State statistics say 80 percent of Coloradans don’t use tobacco, and of the 20 percent who do, 85 percent are trying to stop.
American Medical Association officials say local laws are easier than statewide or federal laws to enact and strengthen. They provide more comprehensive and stronger protection from secondhand smoke and are easier to enforce.
Tobacco companies monitor such legislative activity and lobby strongly when they start to see a number of communities adopting laws that ban smoking, Blackwell said.
The first preemptive legislation adopted was in 1965 after a dozen Florida communities adopted clean indoor air ordinances. The number of states with preemptive legislation now exceeds 30.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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