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Fort Collins City Council votes to expand smoking restrictions

Fort Collins’ City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance regarding the expansion of the city’s smoking policies to include smokefree outdoor dining areas, bar patios and Transfort public transit facilities, shelters, benches and platforms.

Current regulations ban smoking in places of employment and business and public buildings. Those smoking are also required to be more than 20 feet from all building entrances, including patio areas within this distance.

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Of the 14 community members who spoke during the open forum, nine approved passing the ban. The other five, all bar or restaurant owners or employees, were against the proposed restrictions on outdoor dining patios. Those who favored the ordinance as it was proposed included medical personnel, youth and ASCSU’s Director of Health Mackenzie Whitesell.

Alongside Larimer County Public Health, Whitesell facilitated an email survey to gather feedback from CSU students on the issue.

“I thought it was important to have CSU students’ voices heard in this Fort Collins policy,” Whitesell said.

This survey, used by Neighborhood Services Manager Beth Sowder to argue for this ordinance, found that 67 percent of CSU students somewhat or strongly supported expansion of smokefree areas to include patios of restaurants and bars in Fort Collins. And, 73 percent of students somewhat or strongly supported the expansion of the 20 feet rule to pertain to Transfort bus stops and transit centers.

Arguments in support of this increased regulation included health concerns, national trends, local trends, emotional appeals and other surveys.

“I think this ordinance is a step in a healthier direction,” Whitesell said.

Aside from these arguments, bar and restaurant owners and employees spoke out at the meeting, saying this ordinance will dramatically hurt their businesses. Some estimated a maximum of a 30 percent revenue decrease due to the amount of smokers to whom they provide services.

Peter Munro, owner of the Astoria bar and restaurant in Old Town, spoke out saying he and other businesses like his put a lot of money into building outdoor patios in accordance with the current ordinance and that without the revenue from smokers, his business would suffer.

“I feel a bit blindsided,” Munro said after he heard the council members unanimously pass the ordinance.

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Council members, like Gerry Horak of District 6, questioned if anything could be done about this issue and asked for research to be done on how other cities handle it.

Council member Ross Cunniff of District 5 was concerned with enforcement issues, as many who attended the meeting were, but also wanted to increase the restrictions to National Parks and trails. Cunniff was the first to move to pass the ordinance.

“I strongly support the expansion of smoking ordinance,” Cunniff said. “For me (tobacco smoke) is just an inconvenience, but I know people who are strongly affected by it.”

In response to bar and restaurant owners, council members were not convinced this ordinance would be detrimental to their businesses, like owners claimed.

“Businesses may not suffer as much as they may think,” Cunniff said. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Sowder, who presented the ordinance to City Council, was happy with the night’s proceedings.

“It’s a good step,” Sowder said. “We heard clearly from citizens that (the ordinance) is a good thing for them.”

Sowder and her associates suggested an ordinance implementation date on Jan. 1, 2014.

The second reading of the ordinance, regarding the expansion of the City’s smoking ordinance, will occur Nov. 19.

Collegian Green Beat Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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