The aim of public policy should be to balance the interests of all members of a community, not to marginalize a segment of the population in order to appeal to the tastes of the majority.
The smoking policy in Fort Collins is testing — and breaking — this balance, as City Council’s broad restrictions on the habit to combat smoking in public areas fail to make reasonable exceptions for smokers and hookah and vape businesses alike, despite significant public support for such options. While I support reducing smoking in public areas such as downtown, the current regulations set to take effect in February are far too broad and should be changed to accommodate the vaping and smoking community in Fort Collins.
The biggest change that needs to be made by city legislators is exempting hookah lounges and vape shops from their new regulations. While public health is a legitimate concern on which to base new regulations and policy, any public health-related actions taken by city leadership should not be extended to businesses that cater to the smoking and vaping community. While generalizations can quickly warp debate on an issue, I think it’s fairly safe to assert that everyone who frequents hookah lounges or vape shops are fully cognizant of the health risks involved with doing so. City Council’s public health policy should not concern itself with this community since they are willfully engaging in risky activity that does not impact anyone outside the confines of these businesses.
Furthermore, by not exempting hookah and vape shops from their smoking regulations, City Council stands to seriously threaten these businesses’ long-term viability, while also arbitrarily distinguishing them from tobacco businesses. For reasons that remain unclear, retail tobacco stores appear to be exempt from City Council’s expanded smoking restrictions. By drawing this distinction, city legislators appear to be favoring one type of product over others, thus dictating what drug businesses can engage in commerce downtown. Why draw the distinction? Hookah and vape shops deserve the same treatment as tobacco retailers, and all deserve exemption from smoking regulations within their businesses. The expanded smoking restrictions could very well extinguish the few hookah lounges and vape shops currently operating downtown for doing nothing more than conducting business. While, again, I understand that public health is a pressing concern, these businesses should not be targeted by public smoking restrictions just for catering to consumers.
Finally, smoking policy in Fort Collins also needs to be changed to reflect the interests of all in the local community by making reasonable accommodations via designated smoking areas for those who do enjoy smoking or vaping. I myself do not smoke and only rarely visit hookah lounges, and while I agree with city legislators that smoking negatively impacts the health of everyone in the community as well as the appearance of public areas, I also recognize the portion of our community that enjoys smoking and/or vaping, and that they hold an equally important role in the social and economic dynamics of our community.
City legislators need to make this recognition, too. While we should strive as a city to protect public health, we cannot let our protections be so broad that they fail to consider the interests of everyone in the community. Smoking- and vaping-related businesses, as well as the consumers who frequent these places, play an understated role in our local economy and deserve reasonable accommodation in local policy. Protecting public health is important, but that can and should be pursued through far less restrictive means.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.