Our view: Stumbling on smoking ban

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It's hard to understand the Steamboat Springs City Council's emphatic refusal to reconsider its rigid smoking ban.

On May 17, the council passed an ordinance banning all smoking in restaurants, bars, offices, outdoor amphitheaters and workplaces. The ordinance, which went into effect July 1, also bans smoking within 10 feet of doors or windows of buildings where smoking is banned.

We have had problems with the smoking ban from its inception. Among them:

The ban went too far, putting in place distance restrictions that are not practical. The city should not be in the habit of putting ordinances on the books that it can't enforce.

The ban infringed on property owners' rights. Smoking, however distasteful, is legal, and restaurant and bar owners should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking in their businesses.

Finally, we urged the council to let voters to decide the issue. Such a vote would allow opponents of the ban to make their case to voters. It also likely would have resulted in a more reasonable ban being placed on the ballot, which we think would have been successful.

Ultimately, the council moved ahead with the ban as written. This did not sit well with about 20 local restaurant and bar owners who came back to the council with a proposed amendment to allow smoking in specifically designated outdoor areas.

Slopeside Grill owner Chris Corna represented restaurant and bar owners before the council. "It seemed like (the smoking issue) picked up steam, and you didn't really take into account the reality of the ordinance," Corna told council members in requesting approval of the amendment. "Now, we are supposed to deal with something that is unprecedented for any other city. It is really difficult."

Corna's point was well-made, but the council did not buy it. On Tuesday night, the council rejected the amendment. Only Council President Paul Strong, who also unsuccessfully had urged the council to put the ordinance on the ballot, voted for the amendment.

Council members said it was too soon to amend the ordinance, that the ban has not been in place long enough to begin modifying it.

"If this situation is definitely hurting you, we will reconsider it," Council member Steve Ivancie told the restaurant and bar owners. "But we need to allow this ordinance to work at least a year."

That's a pretty flippant attitude for a council member to have toward local businesses. Smokers are tourists and restaurant patrons. Yet, the council has taken the position that restaurants and bar owners can't make even the most modest of accommodations to meets those patrons' needs.

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 have had to deal with second-hand smoke.

That said, there is a fine line between promoting a healthier community and trampling business owners' rights. The City Council's smoking ban crosses that line, and it's disappointing that the council refused to take a reasonable step back by letting restaurants and bars allow smoking in specially designated areas outside.

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