Smoking debate lights up City Council meeting

Advocates urge extending ban; councilors worry about unintended consequences

The Durango City Council was urged to extend the smoking ban to the Animas River Trail, playgrounds and outdoor restaurant patios as necessary for the public health while skeptics worried about the consequences of government overreach.

“Let’s show we are a healthy community without having to walk through a cloud of smoke,” said Jean Walter, an activist with the San Juan Basin Health Department’s Lasso Tobacco Coalition, which made the presentation during a study session Tuesday.

A video by the Boys & Girls Club said the council needed to protect kids where they play. Thirteen-year-old Mathew Jones appealed to material interest, arguing that Durango would lose its status as a tourist draw.

Advocates also want tougher enforcement of the ban of smoking within 15 feet of a business entrance.

Tim Wheeler, owner of Durango Coffee Co. and the Gourmet Kitchen Shop, 730 Main Ave., said he lost both his parents to complications from smoking. He is frustrated by secondhand smoke seeping into his store from the outside.

“I put up signs not to smoke (around the business), but they do it anyway,” Wheeler said.

But City Councilors were worried about unintended consequences. Banning smoking from restaurant patios might force more smokers to the sidewalks, City Councilor Doug Lyon said.

Because most restaurants and bars already ban smoking on outside patios, City Councilor Paul Broderick did not understand the need to ban it altogether. He argued that public sentiment already was effective in discouraging smoking in public places like playgrounds.

“People don’t light up on the kiddy slide,” Broderick said. “If they do, they will have a lot of parents on them. I don’t think there’s a big issue of smoking in the parks.”

Broderick and Lyon wondered about the appropriateness of cracking down on tourists from Europe or Asia who are used to smoking in public places or even the smoker on the river trail who is more than 15 feet away from nearest bystander.

“Do we really want to come down on them like a ton of bricks? I’m not so sure,” Lyon said.

In response, the anti-smoking advocates argued for protecting the “silent majority,” or the 87 percent of Durango residents who say they don’t smoke, and the employees of restaurants who serve customers who smoke.

The city has estimated it would cost $37,000 to put up anti-smoking signs, but advocates argued the costs would be offset by grants.

Councilors urged the anti-smoking advocates to make more presentations to city advisory boards to see where consensus could be reached.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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