Our View: Up in smoke

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Cigarette smoking is a deadly and addictive habit that affects not only smokers but also those in their vicinity. It is our hope that anyone who is a smoker will develop the will and the strength to quit.

That said, we do not think a ban on smoking in public places in Steamboat Springs is practical, reasonable or enforceable and that the City Council should not waste time trying to develop such a ban to put on the ballot.

A citizens group has approached City Councilwoman Kathy Connell with the idea of the ban, and Connell has floated the idea of a ballot initiative. Connell suggested that the group propose a ban, and the City Council asked staff to research possible ordinances, including what other communities have done.

"There is a group of people pretty concerned about smoking and the impact of smoking in Steamboat. They would really, really like to see nonsmoking in public places," Connell said.

The city already has in place an ordinance that bans smoking in all city buildings, and in 1992, the City Council adopted a resolution supporting efforts to make Steamboat Springs a "smoke-free" community. Such measures are appropriate.

But to go beyond that, we fear, is nothing more than a nod to political correctness that may have unintended, negative consequences.

The problem, as City Manager Paul Hughes noted, is how far such an ordinance can be extended. Would public places include parks, sidewalks and streets? Would smoking be banned at outdoor concerts or in rodeo arenas? In public alleys or parking lots?

It seems reasonable to require restaurants to provide nonsmoking sections, but how far could and should the city take such restrictions? What effect would a more restrictive smoking ban have on their businesses?

Perhaps most importantly, what effect would a ban have on visitors' experiences in Steamboat? We are a city that attracts diverse people from across the nation and around the world. Many of those visitors do not smoke. Many do.

Those guests who do smoke should have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to smoke in certain outdoor areas without fear of being ticketed. An overzealous smoking ordinance likely would make such guests feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Some may argue a ban would help these guests quit, but more likely, it simply will ensure they don't return.

Finally, a ban on smoking in public places would be a nightmare to enforce.

By and large, Steamboat is a healthy and active community. Though we have no specific evidence to support this, anecdotally, it appears we are a city with a lower percentage of smokers than others. Smoking, it seems, is not one of our major problems.

That's not to say we endorse smoking. To the contrary -- we support education and awareness campaigns about the dangers of smoking, smoke-free schools and smoking bans in public buildings and on public transportation. Such tools, we think, have helped reduce the level of smoking in Steamboat Springs and across the country.

But banning smoking in all of Steamboat's public places goes too far and could have consequences that outweigh any benefits.

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