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County commissioners are cold to smoking ban

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Proposal still needs fine-tuning, they indicate

By Ramsey Scott

The county health department has been working on a way to increase restrictions on public smoking in unincorporated Jeffco. 

Yet given the department’s last presentation to the county commissioners, the agency still has a lot of work to do before the commissioners agree to any new restrictions. 

The health department made its third presentation to the county commissioners since March 2012 on possible ways to augment the statewide smoking restrictions passed in the Colorado Clean Air Act of 2006. 

That law bans smoking inside public buildings like hospitals, restaurants and bars, other retail businesses, and 75 percent of all rooms in any hotel or motel. 

On Aug. 6, Jeffco Public Health Director Dr. Mark Johnson presented his department’s latest version of a smoking ban for unincorporated parts of Jeffco: 

• Increase the current buffer zone around smoke-free areas, such as the entrance to a public building, from 15 feet to 25 feet.

• Require all motels/hotels to convert 90 percent of their rooms to smoke-free.

• An expanded definition of public common areas that includes public parking lots and outdoor sports and entertainment venues. The proposal included an exemption for Bandimere Speedway and Red Rocks Amphitheatre. 

• Extend the ban to public recreational areas like hiking and biking paths, common areas of campgrounds, swimming pools and open space. The health department was working with Jeffco Parks and Open Space on public outreach on a possible smoking ban on Open Space lands.   

• The ordinance also included exceptions to the smoking ban for personal campsites, hookah and cigar bars, and private golf courses. 

The new proposals were met with skepticism by Commissioner Don Rosier, who referred to them as being part of a “nanny state.” Rosier said the broad definition of “common space” would have unintended consequences as well.

“When you look at common space, we’re worried about the health, safety and well-being of individuals, especially small children,” Rosier said. “I live with my spouse and my children in a multifamily-unit building, and I want to step outside to smoke because I don’t want to have my children affected by that smoke. Guess what? I can be fined.” 

Rosier said the new proposal was too far-reaching, pointing to the banning of smoking in a parking lot that essentially would eliminate the ability of an employee to step outside to have a cigarette.

Rosier also questioned whether a resident smoking a cigarette in his yard within 15 feet of the sidewalk would be in violation.

Rosier wasn’t the only commissioner who seemed skeptical of the new version of the ordinance. Commissioners Casey Tighe and Faye Griffin agreed that the definition of “common area” was too vague. 

“I think you’re getting closer,” Tighe said. “I agree with the common area thing. We definitely don’t want the unintended result to be there’s no place for people to smoke. I don’t want people who go to a restaurant and be able to have a cigarette to not have an opportunity to do that.

“That’s not the intent, so we need to come up with some way for the language that does allow that kind of activity.”

Griffin questioned the need for the county to require that hotels reduce the number of smoking rooms to 10 percent since the health department’s report said many hotels and motels in the area are already switching to 100 percent smoke-free rooms. 

For his part, Johnson said that while the proposed ordinance wasn’t intended to punish someone walking on a sidewalk, it was important to find ways to prevent second-hand smoke from affecting nonsmokers. 

“Essentially breathing second-hand smoke and smoke of the end of a cigarette that’s not going through a filter, so in some ways it’s more dangerous,” Johnson said. “It’s not one of those things where you can say, ‘What I do doesn’t affect you.’ … What you do does affect me and everyone else around you with secondhand smoke.”

The Jeffco health department will come back in the next month or so after conducting outreach on a possible smoking ban in Jeffco Parks and Open Space with a rewritten proposal.

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.