Our view: Take some deep breaths

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The recent legislative push for a statewide ban on smoking in public places, we think, is a good idea.

In December, we wrote that a city ordinance prohibiting smoking in Craig would be unpractical because it would create inequities.

For example, a new smoker-friendly cafe could spring up on the outskirts of town and capitalize on a city smoking prohibition, leaving existing bars and restaurants unable to compete on a level playing field. At the time, we thought consumers could dictate whether a business should be smoke-free -- if enough customers avoided a business because of the smoke issue, then an owner would have to decide.

But we also touched on our desire for more local businesses to consider going smoke-free because we're convinced that a significant number of people in the community would support it.

The new proposed legislation would effectively level the playing field, because all businesses would be subject to the ban on smoking in public places. For that reason, we've come to think that the public-health benefits outweigh the business repercussions.

Proponents say that other communities that have passed such bans have not seen a huge change in sales tax receipts from the affected bars and restaurants. But local business owners in Craig seem skeptical and promise they'll do what they can to fight the measure.

"I think we'll fight it all the way," said Delbert Knez, owner of the O.P. Bar & Grill. "It should be up to the bar owner to use his discretion whether someone smokes in his establishment."

The list of nonsmoking establishments in Craig is pretty lengthy. These places went smoke-free without any ordinance or law that told them to do so. It just made good business sense for the owners. It would be good to let market forces dictate whether other businesses choose to go smoke-free, save for one glaring detail: the health of workers.

It's important to consider that the proposed Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act is not simply a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants -- it's a ban on smoking in a workplace where people earn their livelihoods. The purpose of the ban is to protect these employees from second-hand smoke and the harmful carcinogens it contains. We already have lots of laws about protecting workers from carcinogens and harmful chemicals; this ban follows that logic.

Sure, customers can go to a bar or restaurant that bans smoking if they don't want to breathe second-hand smoke. But bartenders, waiters or waitresses can't necessarily go work wherever they want. It often is hard to find a job, and they have to go where the work is, even if it's a smoky bar or restaurant. This ban would protect these workers who don't smoke and don't want to breathe smoke while they work.

For a customer who has a drink after work a couple times a week, having to go outside for a smoke is an inconvenience. For a cocktail waitress who gets emphysema from breathing second-hand smoke, the illness is much more than an inconvenience.

Bar owners say they should be allowed to decide what is appropriate in their establishment.

But there are laws about how many people are allowed in a bar at one time. There are laws restricting their hours of business from 7 to 2 a.m., and laws say to whom bars can't sell alcohol to (drunk people and people under 21). We have these laws because they support the safety of the public.

Banning smoke would further support the public's safety and health.

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