What happens when one’s actions have the potential to upset other people? In these situations, we are often told to be “considerate of others” when our behavior has the potential to disturb others. But what about when one’s actions have the potential to upset a significant minority of a community?
Fort Collins City Council recently approved an expansion of municipal no-smoking regulations that will go into effect in September if approved again on a second reading. If enacted, Fort Collins’ smoking ban would expand to include all municipal parks, natural areas and a significant portion of downtown, including Old Town Square. This move is a bit surprising, considering that current state law already severely limits smoking in public areas. City Council should not be passing legislation that makes judgment calls on “improving quality of life” without consulting voters. City Council should be considerate of citizens’ opinions and the complexity of the issue, and let taxpayers vote on an expansion of the city’s no-smoking regulation.
The city’s motive to expand this legislation is understandable. As a non-smoker, I can empathize with some peoples’ disgust with the habit and their concern for the public’s health. However, we must be considerate of these biases, and not allow our perspective to oversimplify the issue at large; additional smoking regulation stands to impact far more than local users’ habits.
For example, as reported by the Collegian, Mayor Karen Weitkunat was the only council member to vote against the ordinance, citing concerns for businesses and visitors’ needs. These are very real concerns for our city, especially considering how important a role tourism plays in our local economy. Anti-smoking legislation can have real impact on businesses; when the UK banned smoking in bars in 2007, pubs suffered immensely, with some seeing a 10 percent decline in their drink sales. Granted, the nightlife of Fort Collins is nothing like the pubs of England, and smoking has been banned in Colorado bars since 2006, but this does go to show that disenfranchisement of smokers carries real economic risk to it. The smoking ban expansion proposed by the city would completely cover the most-traveled areas of Old Town. Instituting a full ban in this area might not be the best idea, especially when proposals for designated smoking areas have received support.
Furthermore, the health risks City Council is seeking to act on are not fully understood. It is admirable that our leadership wants to reduce secondhand smoke exposure among citizens, but current state law already covers areas where SHS exposure stands to be a risk. In 2014, the American Heart Association reported that secondhand smoke has not been proven to be a risk to people outdoors. Moreover, reports from the Center for Disease Control show that smoking rates have been declining steadily since 1965. Lawmakers’ efforts coupled with increased health awareness amongst the public have contributed to the smoking habit becoming less of an issue with each passing year.
A smoking ban downtown seems excessive. This is not a simple debate, and does not deserve to up to City Council alone; there are multiple issues to consider, including business downtown, tourism, and public health. Honestly, if this were on the ballot today, I don’t know how I would vote. Regardless, citizens deserve the right to decide our priorities as a city.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.