Several Fort Collins businesses could soon see their sales snuffed out by local legislation.
In February, city council members passed an ordinance banning smoking and electronic-cigarette use in Old Town, city-run events and natural areas in town. In addition to the outdoor restrictions, the legislation also prohibits smoking in all businesses downtown, which has put some local business owners in a tough spot, as hookah lounges and electronic-cigarette stores are included in the ban. Their inclusion in the regulation is rather suspect, as indoor smoking and sampling areas do not contribute to the public health problem of smoking outdoors, which is the presumable target of the legislation. Vendors of hookah and vape products should not have to take burdensome action to comply with this new local legislation. This includes having customers sample products outside their stores, or relocating their businesses entirely, when they are not part of the issue being addressed by city legislators. Vape shops and hookah lounges should be exempt from the expanded smoking restrictions in Fort Collins.
As they currently stand, the new restrictions adopted by city council cross the line from being a necessary safeguard of public health to a needless impediment on local businesses and consumers. City officials are well within their rights to ban smoking and electronic cigarette use on municipal property and at city events, but the legislation is too inflexible; it’s an attempted one-size-fits-all solution to a problem with many factors that have gone unconsidered. For example, according to the regulation’s proponents, the further smoking restrictions were proposed in response to community surveys on the issue. Yet, the council’s decision omitted designated smoking areas, an idea that had received majority support from the community. Allocating certain areas of Old Town for smoking would more effectively address the interests of public health proponents and smokers alike, and yet this prospect for balance was apparently rejected by city legislators.
Furthermore, the push for new smoking restrictions also overlook their potential impact on tourism. The market of Old Town is geared overwhelmingly towards nightlife and tourism, and while smokers certainly do not make up the majority of downtown business’ intended demographic, they are significant enough that restricting their ability to patronize hookah lounges and vape shops stands to have a noticeable impact on the local economy. Hookah lounges are most popular among college-aged individuals, because they tend to be cheaper than bars to frequent, and e-cigarettes and vapor products have grown more popular in recent years as a seemingly less harmful alternative to cigarettes, that are more acceptable to enjoy in public spaces. Additionally, it would be foolish to ignore marijuana’s presence in the local economy, and the considerable interest it draws from tourists, since people from outside Colorado can still purchase cannabis under state law. Handicapping this aspect of the local economy and of Old Town’s nightlife is both excessive and unnecessary, as it poses serious threat to certain local businesses, while attempting to neutralize an overestimated public health concern.
Hookah and e-cigarette vendors need to be treated differently than regular business in these smoking restrictions, because they are distinctly different from the rest of the affected market. Hookah lounges and vape shops are specifically designed for smoking, meaning they are easily avoidable by citizens looking to avoid health risks; they are not a factor in the legislation’s goal of reducing outdoor, public smoking because the sampling and consumption of the tobacco products they offer occurs indoors in private areas. The only real risk in willful smoking indoors, besides those sustained by customers and business owners is possible devaluation of the property due to smoke’s effect on interior spaces. Hookah lounges and e-cigarette shops require deliberate participation by citizens to pose any health risk to the public, and the threat does not extend outside their doors.
If city leadership wishes to curb smoking outdoors, they are well within their rights to do so. However, including hookah lounges and vape shops in their restrictions will contribute nothing to the goal of decreasing smoking outdoors, while posing serious, needless interference with an underrated part of Fort Collins’ economy. Vape and hookah customers should not have to go outside shops to sample products, and smoke shops should not have to relocate to survive and remain compliant with local law.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.