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Proposed smoking ban would close hookah bars

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County health department seeking stringent restrictions

By Emile Hallez

South Jeffco’s two hookah bars would be effectively shut down under a stringent smoking ban proposed last week by Jefferson County Public Health.

Following results of a survey in which more than 80 percent of unincorporated Jeffco respondents reportedly said they favored tighter smoking restrictions in public places, the health department brought the proposal — which has not been drafted as an ordinance — before the county commissioners.

“Lots of people have moved to Colorado to get clean air,” said health department director Dr. Mark Johnson. “And then to be exposed to air that is carcinogenic, we feel is a bit ironic. … This (proposed ban) benefits everybody in the county — at least people who breathe air,” he added wryly.

The commissioners did not weigh in significantly on a tighter ban, which would prohibit smoking in workplaces and public parks and would extend the acceptable distance for smoking in front of a building entrance from 15 feet to 25 feet. However, Commissioner Faye Griffin said she generally supported a ban, and Commissioner Don Rosier wanted to know how a ban would be enforced in public spaces.

The health department is targeting hookah bars particularly for their appeal to young people, especially those old enough to smoke but too young to legally drink.

In support of the proposed ban, several Columbine High School students offered testimony. Other students regularly patronize hookah bars, they said. And many teens walk through the south end of Clement Park every morning, where students go to smoke off school grounds.

“Those have become really popular and have become a hangout spot for high school students,” said Columbine student Lauren Bezznat. “A lot of them went to the hookah bars, but then they started getting ID’d. … It’s just that easy to get around the rules.”

The smoking at Clement Park causes concern for some students, who say they inhale secondhand smoke when walking to class. Others say the frequent smokers might inadvertently create a perception that cigarettes are fashionable.

“Student smokers conglomerate, causing all students who walk by to be exposed,” said student Tanner Hudson, who recently crated a photo project capturing the preponderance of discarded cigarette butts near the border of Clement Park. “It normalizes the vision and appearance of smoking, which promotes smoking to additional students.”

The Sheriff’s Office would be responsible for enforcement, but deputies’ actively policing park space for infractions would appear unlikely. Though park rangers could uphold the ordinance on Open Space land, Foothills Park & Recreation employees could enforce the ban only by contacting the Sheriff’s Office, county officials said.

The ban would also affect home-based businesses that have employees or bring customers into their buildings. However, certain home-based businesses not having customers or additional employees physically on the premises would likely be exempted. A smoking ban already applies to home-based day-care centers.

“We would include home-based businesses … if it’s open to the public,” said John Coles, chairman of Healthier Unincorporated Jefferson County. Coles noted that results of the recent survey are reflective of a more health-conscious society.

The survey included about 1,000 replies from South Jeffco residents.

“We were pleasantly surprised it was that high. It reflects a change in values of the people in the county … and healthy outdoor living,” Coles said of the National Research Center survey. “People are just saying it’s not enjoyable, and it’s threatening to their health and well-being if they’re in an outside seating area.”

Phone messages seeking comment from the 40 Thieves Hookah Lounge in South Jeffco were not returned.

“(Hookah lounges) were basically were nonexistent until the state law went into effect,” public health employee Donna Viverette said. “They tend to be attractive to young adults and youth. … Just 15 minutes of smoking tobacco in a hookah pipe is about the same as chain-smoking five cigarettes.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.