Our View: Smoking ban needs a vote

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The Steamboat Springs City Council should not implement a stricter smoking ban without first taking the proposal to voters.

Last week, council members instructed city staff to develop an ordinance prohibiting smoking in restaurants, offices and public places. The decision came at the urging of SmokeFree Steamboat, which has developed an ordinance it hopes the city will adopt. SmokeFree Steamboat would ban smoking in all workplaces, bars, public places, sporting events, retail and grocery stores, and the indoor and outdoor areas of restaurants.

We disagree with SmokeFree Steamboat's approach. First, parts of SmokeFree Steamboat's proposal are unenforceable, such as requiring smokers to be at least 25 feet from anywhere smoking is prohibited or from an open window of a nonsmoking establishment. The city should not be in the business of approving ordinances it can't or has no intention of enforcing.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, if there is to be such a broad anti-smoking ordinance, it should be a community decision, not a council mandate. An election would give opponents of the ban the opportunity to make their case, which we presume would be that this is something private businesses should be able to decide for themselves without city interference.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members Paul Strong and Ken Brenner rightly called for such an election on the issue. "There is a sizable segment of the population that does smoke, and I would favor putting this on a referendum," Strong said. "Let the citizens decide on this issue. I would vote yes on it."

Unfortunately, Brenner and Strong appear to be in the minority. Other council members indicated the city is long overdue in implementing such an ordinance.

As we have said before, 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. And we can empathize with restaurant and bar workers who deal with second-hand smoke on a daily basis.

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. Many may argue these measures go far enough.

State Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver, has proposed legislation that would ban smoking in all public places statewide. But after resistance from all 17 Senate Republicans on the grounds that the bill infringes on the rights of private businesses, Grossman has backed off introducing the bill. It appears dead for this session and thus will have no affect on whatever Steamboat decides to do.

In general, anti-smoking proposals have done well with voters. Last fall, voters approved a constitutional amendment that steeply increases the state's tobacco tax and dedicates the resulting proceeds to health care and anti-smoking programs.

We think that a well-crafted anti-smoking proposal that is practical and enforceable would do well with Steamboat voters. And it would give opponents of the ban plenty of time to enter the debate.

Smoking is an unhealthy habit. But it is legal, and those who smoke, as well as those who allow smoking in their private establishments, have rights that should not be trampled by City Council. If there is to be such a ban, council should put it on the ballot and let the city's voters decide.

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