City butts out of bar, eatery patios

Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 4:52 PM

Durango City Council on Tuesday was told to “butt out” of bar owners’ livelihood with an “excessive” outdoor smoking ban in most public outdoor areas, such as saloon patios.

The “busy work legislation should be edited to remove all references to private businesses,” said Phil Roth, the owner of the 8th Avenue Tavern who has invested in a screened-in patio that has become a “sanctuary” for smokers.

Roth counted three bars and seven alcohol-serving restaurants with outdoor patios in Durango.

Billy Faucheux, a veteran of Vietnam era who doesn’t smoke, said he was worried about the loss of individual liberties.

“Where do they stop?” Faucheux said in an interview. “I don’t want to see people’s rights taken away from them. It’s as simple as that.”

The council agreed with Roth and fellow bar owners, deciding to separate bar and restaurant patios from the ban while keeping in place restrictions on smoking on city-owned property and public areas such as parks, playgrounds, bus stops, the Animas River Trail and the lawn outside the Durango Community Recreation Center.

The council also tweaked the ordinance language to exclude the Hillcrest Golf Course and the city’s playing fields at Fort Lewis College.

The ban will be enforced with fines of $100 for first offense and as much as $200 to $300 fines for consecutive offenses.

A formal vote was not taken because City Attorney David Smith must still write the ordinance with the revisions. It will return in two weeks.

Mayor Doug Lyon said he would have exempted the river trail from the ban because people on the trail are more likely to be exposed to smoke from the train than from secondhand cigarette smoke.

The mayor did not want Durango to follow the example of New York City in banning large sodas, either.

“I think we need to be wary of the heavy hand of government in the guise of doing good for society,” Lyon said. He did support patrols to prevent teen smoking on the trail, especially behind Durango High School.

San Juan Basin Health Department and the Lasso Tobacco Coalition worked with the city for two years to propose the ban for the “sake of the common good” and children’s health.

Joe Theine, director of the health department, said the city had an opportunity to make a dent in the number one cause of death in La Plata County, which is cardiovascular disease. Supporters also argued government has a duty to protect the public health and safety.

Advocates also argued that the ban would protect the health of bar workers, but Roth, of 8th Avenue Tavern, responded that his servers do not go to the patio unless they want to. His customers must take their own drinks outside.

But Char Day said the evidence against smoking was overwhelming.

“Secondhand smoke kills,” Day said. “The science is clear. The debate is over. ... There is no constitutional right to smoke.”

Rick Carney, owner of Moe’s on Main Avenue, said it was “hypocritical” for the overweight supporters of the ban to advise smokers on their health.

“They should pass an ordinance that you can’t be 30 pounds overweight if they are so worried about health,” Carney said outside the meeting.

Carney also said it was “such a shameful, cheap tactic” to use young children to publicly support the ban. As the meeting dragged on past 7:30 p.m., children from Boys & Girls Club left before the hearing started. Many smokers frequently left the City Council Chambers to light up cigarettes on the sidewalk.

City Manager Ron LeBlanc questioned how the city would afford the $37,000 estimated cost to put up the signs to enforce the ban on public property.

“We will manage to put up the signs,” Lyon said.