Smoke continues to clear in Durango
More and more bars and restaurants voluntarily ban indoor smoking
A smoker rests his cigarette on the bar at Steamworks on Monday afternoon. Although the potential for an official citywide ban remains far off, more and more establishments are making the move toward going smoke-free./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The haze is beginning to lift in Durango. More and more local bars and restaurants are taking the leap and voluntarily banning cigarette smoking. However, the push against public smoking is still far from universal, and the potential for a citywide ban remains far off.

A smoke-free Durango really came into focus a year ago, when a group of local restaurateurs and business owners sat down and discussed the merits of a citywide ban on indoor smoking. While no conclusion was reached at the meeting, business owners immediately went into action. The following day, the Palace Restaurant announced plans to go smoke-free. In the months that followed, the Ore House and Farquahrts also took voluntary steps to ban smoking, and Scoot 'n Blues tested the waters with a smoke-free night.

Char Day, tobacco prevention manager with the San Juan Basin Health Department, said that awareness of smoking's danger has continued to grow in Durango lately. She said this awareness is reflected in the number of restaurants that are voluntarily posting "no smoking" signs. That number has currently risen to 90, thanks to both a local shift toward a nonsmoking lifestyle and increasing awareness about the dangers of second-hand smoke. Day noted that second-hand smoke is particularly threatening to employees at smoker-friendly businesses, where lifetime nonsmokers can get "pack-a-day" lungs from an average eight-hour shift.

"It shouldn't be a condition of employment that employees should have to face increased cancer risk," Day commented.

Many local business owners, particularly bar/restaurant owners, have recognized this and become concerned about employee health. This week, Lady Falconburgh's Barley Exchange jumped on board and voluntarily banned smoking. Day said that the move was a big one both for Lady Falconburgh's and the San Juan Basin Health Department's Lasso Tobacco Coalition. While the establishment serves lunch and dinner, it shifts more toward bar-mode after dark.

"Lady Falconburgh's has a lot of unique characteristics that make this a huge move on their part," Day said. "They offer great food, but they're a really wonderful drinking establishment, too. This is a huge commitment on their part. It's not like people can go outside to the patio to smoke and come back in."

Day added, "They're to be commended and congratulated on thinking of their employees and their customers' health."

Last year at this time, Lady Falconburgh's was on the fence regarding a voluntary ban on smoking. At the time, the bar/restaurant's owners said that they were concerned about second-hand smoke but feared that a voluntary ban would be "corporate suicide." Part-owner Zak Sinberg commented, "There are about 28 other places in a 10-block radius where you can go and get a drink and have a smoke."

This year, Lady Falconburgh's is viewing second-hand smoke from a different angle. Of the decision to go smoke-free, part-owner Aaron Sinberg said, "We made the move because of the trend of our customers and a desire to have a cleaner, healthier, work environment for our staff."

Sinberg said that Lady Falconburgh's is mirroring a shift that's taking place throughout Durango. "We are embracing the wants and needs of the Durango community," he said. "It's kind of the flow, and we're part of that wave. Our staff is wanting a cleaner environment and we, as owners, are wanting a cleaner workplace."

While Day agreed that Durango is trending toward public places that are smoke-free, she said that Durango also still has a great deal of ground to cover. Citing cities like Alamosa, Fort Collins and Greeley that have adopted citywide smoking bans, she said that it's surprising that she still encounters opposition locally.

Although a consistent smoker, three-year Lady Falconburgh's employee Chad Felz happily discards unnecessary ash trays on Monday. This week, the restaurant and bar announced itís going smoke-free./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

While Day agreed that Durango is trending toward public places that are smoke-free, she said that Durango also still has a great deal of ground to cover. Citing cities like Alamosa, Fort Collins and Greeley that have adopted citywide smoking bans, she said that it's surprising that she still encounters opposition locally.

"I'm around a lot of people that so strongly see the logic behind having smoke-free worksites," Day said. "But there are still a few places that feel threatened by that."

The local bar has largely remained one haven for smokers in Durango. Ben Bachman, owner of the Summit, said that it's a simple fact that many people like to smoke when they are drinking.

"I don't see it as a dilemma," the bar owner said. "People who drink on a regular basis also smoke. Even if people are nonsmokers, they go out, start drinking and bum smokes. I don't want to take responsibility for that, but I'm also not going to deny that it's happening."

Bachman also argued that the late-night crew takes a different view of second-hand smoke exposure. "Because I don't serve food, I don't get busy until 10 o'clock at night," he said. "If you're still out at that time, you should be used to a smoky bar."

Regardless, Bachman said that The Summit has taken every precaution and gone to every expense to limit second-hand smoke exposure. He said that he has installed three exhaust fans specifically to suck smoke out of the bar and will be purchasing a state-of-the-art ionizer with clean air in mind.

However, like Lady Falconburgh's one year ago, Bachman said that he believes voluntarily banning smoking at The Summit would be a bad business decision. "Until it's a law, there are going to be places in Durango that at least have a section.for smoking,"he said.

And according to Assistant City Manager Greg Caton, there is no danger of that kind of law taking effect in Durango anytime in the near future. Last year, the San Juan Basin Health Department asked the Durango City Council to consider enacting a citywide ban on smoking. However, after attending the meeting of bar and restaurant owners last December, Caton said that he viewed a citywide ban as inappropriate.

"Many business owners were thinking that the city would pass an ordinance and they would be able to tell their customers that it was out of their hands," Caton said. "But there were also a number of strong advocates for the city not playing a role."

Caton said that the city's conclusion was to let the marketplace decide and respect all perspectives by keeping government out of private business.

"We decided we were going to let the private market handle the situation for now," he said. "Some could argue that there's already momentum and that the problem is already taking care of itself."

Day is still moving forward with the goal of making downtown Durango completely smoke-free and counts Lady Falconburgh's recent conversion as a major victory. "When you think that states like Minnesota, California and New York are smoke-free and entire nations like Ireland and Scotland have recognized the dangers and banned it, you realize that we're quite a ways behind the eight ball which is kind of surprising," she concluded. ☯





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