Oak Creek Hoping to stop an ordinance that would restrict anyone younger than 18 from smoking in public, a handful of teen-age girls argued at an Oak Creek Board of Trustees work session last week that it was their choice to smoke cigarettes.
The trustees later agreed to put the ordinance on the Oct. 26 town meeting agenda when they could vote on it.
If passed, it will be the second time in one year a town board in Routt County has forced teen-agers out of public places to smoke.
The Hayden Board of Trustees passed the same ordinance in April after fielding numerous complaints from residents about youngsters smoking in public.
"It certainly has diminished the amount of teen-agers smoking in public parks and on public streets," Hayden Town Manager Rob Straebel said of the ordinance there.
However, he doesn't know if the number of teen-agers who smoke in Hayden, which was estimated to be 50 percent, has decreased.
The motivation behind passing the Hayden ordinance was multi-faceted, Straebel said. Trustees hoped to stop children from smoking, detour youths from starting the habit and curb the littering of cigarette butts.
Trash was one concern Oak Creek Trustee Sonja Norris brought up.
There are thousands of cigarette butts scattered on the ground on a small path near Soroco Middle School, she said.
But cigarette butts aren't the driving force behind the Oak Creek Board of Trustees.
Five of the six members on the board are smokers, and that fueled the concerns of the public servants when discussing the issue at their Oct. 12 meeting.
"I don't like passing something like this. But being a heavy smoker and knowing how difficult it is to stop, I would like to do anything I can to stop kids from starting," Mayor Deb VanGundy said.
Teen-ager Jessica Baker said it is her choice to do what she wants with her body and doesn't want to be protected by an ordinance.
"You guys make your mistakes and I'll have to make mine," she said.
VanGundy knows the ordinance probably won't stop the children who already smoke. But her intent is to keep younger children from being influenced by their older peers.
Trustee Mike Kien, whose opinion on a teen-age curfew in Oak Creek earlier in the meeting was centered on keeping the government out of private lives and encouraging parents to be more responsible, agreed with having an ordinance under the pretense that smoking is an unhealthy addiction to have.
"Basically, I'm for it," Kien said.
In a more personal take on the matter, Trustee Clyde Moore, a smoker, also supported the ordinance.
"Having emphysema, and being on oxygen every night, I wouldn't want to see anyone else go through that," he said.
Having the benefit of hindsight on the issue in Hayden, Straebel addressed the concern of laws stepping over the personal-lives boundary of residents with the ordinance.
"It's a philosophical question on whether governments should regulate behavior," he said.
John Straayer is a professor of political science at Colorado State University. He believes there is a line the government can cross when it comes to personal decisions. But it's drawn at a different place for each person.
"Whether it's good or bad is difficult because people have different takes on it," he said. "But the inclination to use forms of government to control behavior or protect health is not unique."
Regulating uses of alcohol and marijuana and even reproductive choices are government influenced. Whether laws change to take behavior out of those personal decisions depends on the education and morals of society, Straayer said.
For tobacco smoking, the argument is centered on health. Someone might argue taking a risk on health is a personal decision, he said.
"But it's only your own problem until you get sick," Straayer said.
Then the other side argues that those who risk their health and get sick end up depending on someone else for care, he added.
There's also the problem with finding ways to properly enforce these types of laws, Straayer said.
The Hayden Police Department has written about five tickets for teen-agers smoking, Hayden Police Chief Jody Lenahan said.
"We're not setting up stings or traps," he said.
The tickets are given to teen-agers who are in places where younger children can see them smoking, Lenahan said.
The fine is $25 in addition to $15 in court fees. After that is paid, the judge makes the teen-ager write a 500-word essay.
"It has to do with why it's hazardous to smoke," Lenahan said. "So it's not just a punishment, it's an education."
The Oak Creek trustees didn't discuss how the ordinance would be enforced if passed. They will discuss the ordinance at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Oak Creek Town Hall.