Bar owners still fuming

Businesses assess local smoking ban on eve of state law

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— Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Steamboat Springs' controversial municipal smoking ban, but local businesses that once catered to the smoker's dollar have no reason to celebrate.

Mike Miller, owner of Sun--pie's Bistro, thinks the city's ordinance goes too far, banning smoking anywhere within the restaurant or bar's liquor license boundaries.

"It's almost impossible to enforce," Miller said about enforcing a ban that encompasses Sunpie's entire 5,000-square-foot outdoor seating area along the Yampa River. "You can be 150 feet from being indoors, and you're not allowed to smoke. You can inform customers of the law and put up signs, but you turn around, and they light up."

Slopeside Grill owner Chris Corna, whose restaurant and bar boasts ideal aprÃs-ski real estate, agreed with Miller.

"I said from the beginning that they were going a little overboard," Corna said, referring to the City Council that passed the ordinance. As president of the Steamboat Springs Restaurant Association, he spoke to the council when the ordinance was proposed. "It's not against the law to smoke. If they can't smoke inside, they should at least be able to smoke outside."

Because of the ban, Corna and Miller said they spend their mornings picking up cigarette butts along the edges of their properties. Corna thinks it would be more reasonable if his restaurant was subject only to the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act that goes into effect Saturday.

The Clean Indoor Air Act -- essentially a statewide smoking ban -- prohibits smoking in public indoor areas and extends to a 15-foot radius around entryways, making it possible for owners such as Miller and Corna to accommodate customers who want to smoke outside rather than banishing them from their properties.

For businesses that lack exterior seatings to attract customers, the municipal ban has had a much more debilitating effect.

John Hoekstra has owned Golden Cue Billiards for 19 years. He estimated since last July's ban began, he has lost between $5,000 and $6,000 a month.

"Soon as the weather hit and it got cold in October -- bam -- there it went," Hoekstra said. "It used to be packed in here for Broncos games -- 15 to 20 people. Now I have only one or two people."

Steamboat Springs Police Department community service supervisor Tom Whiddon said most business owners have complied with the ban. Whiddon said the city has issued only a few warnings to businesses that violated the smoking ban.

"We respond if we get a complaint," Whiddon said. "We're not out there looking for every person that might be smoking and measuring the distance from the door."

Despite the statewide ban's looser regulations, restaurant and bar owners who own establishments outside of Steamboat city limits fear taking financial blows similar to Hoekstra's.

J. Elliott, owner of Oak Creek's Colorado Bar & Grill, sees the ban as government intrusion on his relationship with his customers' individual choices.

"The bar is about 47 percent of my business," Elliott said. "If this goes into effect, I'll have to make some drastic changes."

Fearing the worst, Elliott said he had his business up for sale "back in February when (the act) passed and was voted into the state Senate."

Because the Colorado Clean Air Act does not apply to casinos, cigar bars or Denver International Airport smoking lounges, Oak Creek mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman had hoped a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court would result in a temporary injunction that could save the three Oak Creek businesses that allow smoking. But on Friday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock refused to delay the ban from taking effect. His ruling did not affect the lawsuit itself, which can still proceed after the ban begins.

"If it's employees they're trying to protect, why are they making the ones with the most employees exempt?" Rodeman asked. "There's more employees in one casino than every business in Oak Creek -- times 10."

Teresa Wright, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association's tobacco prevention program coordinator, is quick to cite evidence she said contradicts Rodeman's and Elliott's fears that the act will destroy Oak Creek businesses.

"All the research we have from other states is that it always results in a positive impact on the economy," Wright said about legislation aimed at increasing public health. "Costs decrease for businesses because they no longer have to pay for added insurance coverage, increased ventilation and extra effort to clean their establishment."

Rather than dreading the July 1 enactment, Wright urges smokers to seize the day as a quit date and suggests calling (800) 639-QUIT, a toll-free quit line that provides Colorado residents with free counseling and nicotine patches.

Colorado will be the 13th state to go smoke-free. More information on the law can be viewed at www.smokefreecolorado.org.

-- To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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