A coalition of anti-smoking groups wants to tighten smoking restrictions in Jefferson County, but the county commissioners got a little hot under the collar over infringing on the rights of business owners.
Jeffco’s Public Health Department has teamed with Healthy Unincorporated Jefferson County, a tobacco prevention coalition, to push for several changes to Jeffco’s smoking regulations and restrictions.
“We have a state law that provides some very rigorous restrictions on smoking in public places. However, there are some loopholes that need to be closed,” said Dr. Walter Young, a member of Tobacco-Free Jeffco.
Those loopholes, Young says, include laws allowing people to smoke in tobacco shops, cigar bars and hookah lounges and in businesses with three or fewer employees. The coalition also wants the smoke-free zones at entrances to public buildings expanded to 25 feet from 15 feet, and for all restaurant and bar patios to go smoke-free.
The goal is to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke for the majority of the public that doesn’t smoke, said Dr. Mark Johnson, executive director of Jeffco Public Health.
“It makes a great deal of sense that if smoking a cigarette through a filter is bad, breathing off the end of the cigarette without a filter is also very bad,” Johnson said. “Secondhand smoke has been shown to be a carcinogen.”
The coalition pointed to Jeffco having a higher rate of young people and men that use some kind of tobacco as a reason for increasing restrictions on public smoking. Studies found more than 75 percent of those surveyed supported many of the group’s proposals, including banning outdoor smoking areas at restaurants.
And with passage of Amendment 64 legalizing recreational marijuana, the group wants to get ahead of a situation where businesses would allow marijuana to be smoked on site.
“In public health, we found the most effective ways to prevent secondhand smoke and to encourage people to quit smoking are policy solutions,” Young said. “That’s why we’re here. We’ve found while program activity can have some influence on smoking rates on the prevention of smoking with kids, policy solutions are the most effective approach.”
Yet all three county commissioners expressed concern over several of the proposals, specifically those that they said could infringe on a business owner’s rights.
“I’ve got some concerns around the fringes of this, but the core of your message, I’m very supportive of. I really like the direction you’re taking this,” Commissioner Casey Tighe said.
But Tighe had concerns about tobacco businesses, such as cigar shops, where people choose to go to smoke tobacco.
Commissioner Don Rosier was more blunt with his concerns about the proposal to eliminate restaurant smoking patios and smoking in tobacco businesses. He sees that as a choice business owners can make on their own.
“It just concerns me when we go into policy over programs. That’s a slippery slope for me,” Rosier said. “That personally scares the heck out of me. Now all of a sudden we’re going to start putting together policies that limit our freedom to do a lot of things. When do we make it illegal to be obese? Why don’t we just make it illegal to smoke? … Why not just move to make smoking illegal if policy trumps programs?”
“It’s in the context of a comprehensive approach to reducing smoking that policy is shown to be, and public health research will show this, that policy is perhaps … the most effective way” to combat smoking, Young responded.
Young added that while private businesses have the choice to go smoke-free, it’s perceived that businesses could lose money if their competition allows smoking.
“It’s the level-playing-field concept,” Young said. “The policy would create the level playing field which says, ‘OK, we’re all going to do it, and we don’t have to deal with the competitive situation.’ ”
The end result of any policy change is to help set a social norm that clean air is a given, Johnson said.
“It should not be dictated to me by the 16 percent minority that I have to breathe bad air, carcinogenic air,” Johnson said. “To set the community’s norm to be that the 16 percent that are putting carcinogenic material in the air have exactly the same rights as the 84 percent that want clean air — I think that’s a bad idea.”
Commissioner Faye Griffin asked that the commissioners consider the idea of extending the smoke-free zone around businesses to 25 feet and to weigh the other proposals.
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.