A hazy issue

City, residents try to take clear look at smoking ban

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If anyone should feel at home at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Steamboat Springs, it's Sam Robards. A helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, he was shot down three times and suffered injuries, including punctured lungs.

But Robards, who becomes short of breath simply talking, said the smoky air inside the VFW is so harmful to him that he usually has to leave early. The same is true for his other favorite bar, the Golden Cue.

Robards, who once smoked three packs a day, quit six years ago, inspired by his wife and young son. He also watched his parents, aunts and uncles die of emphysema.

The smoking in the two establishments has not stopped Robards from going to VFW meetings or watching his friends play pool at the Golden Cue. He just leaves sooner than he would like.

"It is a question of poisoning the air. How would you like it, if I walked into a restaurant with a can of DDT? It is the same thing to me," he said about the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

At Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, Robards was among a group of people who spoke in favor of an ordinance that would ban smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars and public places.

In a letter to the council, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association Executive Director Sue Birch wrote that "the controversy surrounding second-hand smoke has long since passed, and the evidence on the dangers of second-hand smoke is well-known."

Although the controversy about second-hand smoke might have passed, the debate rages on about the rights of smokers and nonsmokers and how far the government should go to regulate them.

"Your personal rights stop at the tip of my nose," Robards said.

But smokers have rights as well, they counter.

"It is just a little ridiculous. They are trying to put a ban on the whole town. This is America," Roger Groth said from his barstool at The Tugboat Grill & Pub, where he sat smoking a cigarette Friday afternoon. "It's wrong, wrong, wrong."

Groth, who has smoked for 16 years, said he's stopped going to one of his favorite bars, Dos Amigos, after it prohibited smoking until 10 p.m. He used to go there almost daily.

"I don't think the government's got a right to tell me what to do. If you don't like it, there are plenty of places that have nonsmoking. We have to have a place to go, as well," Groth said.

His friend, Eric Barry, who joined him at the bar Friday afternoon, had a different take on the issue. Even though Barry also has smoked for 16 years, he said he realizes that people might not want to inhale his second-hand smoke.

"I just think it is silly to get upset about banning something that is going to end up killing you," Barry said

He said part of the reason a smoking ban would be good is because it might help him quit.

Some business owners also say an ordinance prohibiting smoking inside and outside of their establishments would violate their personal rights.

"We don't feel it is anybody else's right to tell us about what we are doing," said Jack Doyle, general manager of The Tugboat Grill & Pub. "It is a bar, it should be left up to the individuals to make (the decision)."

On Tuesday, a local coalition called SmokeFree Steamboat proposed an ordinance that would ban smoking from all workplaces, bars, public places, sporting events, retail and grocery stores and the indoors and outdoors of restaurants.

The ordinance also would stipulate that people who are smoking stay 25 feet from anywhere smoking is prohibited or from an open window of a nonsmoking establishment.

The majority of council members said they would support a nonsmoking ordinance, as opposed to taking the issue to voters in November.

Restaurant owners and patrons likely will be the people most affected by the ordinance.

Dave Sypert, president of the Steamboat Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association said the reaction in the restaurant community runs the gamut.

According to a questionnaire distributed to area restaurants through the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, nine of 16 respondents said they would support an indoor smoking ban. One supported an indoor and outdoor smoking ban. Six said they did not support any smoking ban.

Some restaurants did not support the smoking ban because of the issue of government inter--ference, Sypert said. Others are afraid they could lose business if they lose their smoking sections -- a fear based on what has happened in Front Range communities that have banned smoking in public places, Sypert said.

Village Inn owner Dave Lidvall, who also is president of Family Restaurants Inc., said that when a nonsmoking ordinance went into effect in Greeley, his company saw business at a restaurant there go down dramatically.

"The biggest cost is the smokers (who) for a while, and maybe permanently, will not go back there to eat. You just don't know that until it happens," he said.

The corporation has seen almost half of the restaurants go nonsmoking, he said. But Lidvall said it is an issue of personal choice, and he would prefer to have the choice remain with the restaurant owner.

"I would rather see it that way, but we want to take care of our guests," he said.

At the City Council meeting, Steamboat Smokehouse owner Fritz Aurin said it is not the government's role to prohibit smoking. Although his restaurant went smoke free two years ago, he said it was his decision and should remain the business owners' decisions. He said 80 percent of the restaurants in town already are nonsmoking.

"It's an individual-rights issue. I see it as an issue of how I get to run my business," Aurin said.

However, other restaurant owners said they would welcome an ordinance. Such an ordinance would take the responsibility for that choice out of their hands -- and take away the threat of competition from other establishments that permit smoking.

Golden Cue owner John Hoekstra said he has nothing against the proposed ordinance and hopes it passes. The majority of Hoekstra's customers smoke, and he said about 80 percent of those who play pool smoke.

"Pool and beer and smoking go together. It is one of the facts of life," Hoekstra said.

But having a city-wide smoke-free ordinance would make his job easier, Hoekstra said.

He said it would make the daily clean-up easier and would allow repainting the walls every four to five years as opposed to every year to year and a half.

"I can't personally shut it down, it would be really tough," he said. "At the same time, I am losing costumers because of it."

Although his patrons might complain at first, he said, they would leave or get used to it.

Sypert said that the best solution might be a statewide ban to level the playing field for all restaurants and bars. That way, those who want to smoke in Steamboat will not take their business outside the city limits.

For waitress Lisa Idzahl, the arguments of smokers and restaurant owners do not carry much weight.

Last fall, Idzahl and her co-worker, Anders Anderson, a bartender at Slopeside Grill, became involved in the local coalition. At first, they simply were bothered by the second-hand smoke they breathed during each shift, Idzahl said. But the more research they did, the angrier they got, she said.

"The hospitality industry stands alone as the work place that allows exposure to a Group A carcinogen," Idzahl said.

In her research, she found information from the American Cancer Society stating that one shift in a smoke-filled restaurant or bar is the equivalent of smoking one to two cigarette packs. For Idzahl, who is a nonsmoker, that means she "smokes" four packs a week, and when she used to work six shifts at Slopeside, it would add up to 12 packs a week.

"We are one-third more likely to get lung cancer just because of where we work," Idzahl said.

For the first fall shift of the year, when the doors were closed and kept in the smoke, Idzahl said she and four co-workers suffered headaches and nose bleeds, and one had to take asthma medication because of the smoke.

But as risky as she thinks working in the bar is, she said it also is risky to leave a job she's held for eight years, where she enjoys working, is at the top of the scheduling list and makes good money.

"It's choosing my health over my money," she said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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