Durango welcomes smoking ban
Colorado's Clean Indoor Air Act takes effect on July 1

Barry Yount lights up inside Colorado Pongas pool hall. Pongas is one of 9,500 restaurants and bars that will have to close the doors to smoking July 1. /Photo by Jared Boyd.

by Will Sands

Downtown Durango is taking a final few puffs this week. Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act, a statewide ban on smoking in indoor public places, takes effect this Saturday, July 1, and local business owners are greeting the change with open arms.

Signed into law by Gov. Bill Owens in March and taking effect on Saturday, the ban prohibits smoking in indoor areas throughout Colorado. It applies to everything from bars, restaurants and pool halls to lobbies, hospitals and sports arenas. Backed by the group Smoke Free Colorado, the measure is intended to make public places healthier for employees and the general public. On July 1, Colorado becomes the thirteenth state in the country to adopt such a ban.

Char Day, tobacco prevention manager with the San Juan Basin Health Department, said the new law is the result of growing awareness of second-hand smoke’s danger throughout Colorado. Second-hand smoke is particularly threatening for employees at smoker-friendly businesses.

“Bar workers can inhale up to one-and-and-half packs of cigarettes just by breathing second-hand smoke during a regular shift,” she said. “On the flip side, most people are fine with smoking outdoors.”

The push to go smoke-free has been gaining momentum in Durango for the last 13 years, according to Day. Over that period of time, more than 70 different bars and restaurants in the Durango-area voluntarily banned smoking. Day added that the vast majority of local residents support the end of public smoking.

“Here in our region about 85 percent of the public supports this law,” she said. “That’s compared with about 70 percent statewide. Employees are especially looking forward to working in a smoke-free environment.”

Business owners also appear to be receptive to the coming change. Unlike other areas of the state, many local bar and tavern owners are not viewing the ban as the beginning of the end. Instead they are expecting a positive economic turn.

“Sometimes change is hard to go through, and the tobacco industry is trying to make people think they’re going to lose business from this,” Day said. “In fact, businesses have been shown to experience a positive economic benefit. If our community is smoke-free, there are more opportunities for people to go out and enjoy themselves.”

El Rancho Tavern has long been a stronghold for smokers in the Durango community. Nonetheless, Chip Lile, part-owner of El Rancho Tavern, commented that the local watering hole is welcoming the smoking ban with open arms.

“We’re ready for the smoking ban, we’re looking forward to it, and anyway, it’s the law,” he said.

While many bars and restaurants are sending their smokers to outdoor patios, Lile noted that El Rancho doesn’t have the option but wouldn’t take advantage even if it did.

“We don’t have an outdoor option, other than the sidewalk,” he said. “I will say that if I had a patio, it would also be non-smoking.”

Steamworks Brewing Co. is greeting the smoking ban with similar enthusiasm. Brian McEachron, one of the brew pub’s co-founders, remarked, “We’re really excited. A bunch of us have come up through the restaurant industry, and we’ve been sucking second-hand smoke our entire lives. Plus, Steamworks is such a family friendly place. It can only do us good.”

McEachron and Lile both said they expected a positive economic turn from the smoking ban. In addition to getting more non-smokers through the front door, McEachron said his restaurant’s maintenance costs should drop dramatically.

“I think it goes beyond losing business from smokers,” he said. “We have a lot of costs related to cleaning, smoke eaters and replacement filters. All of those things are going to go away on Saturday.”

Day and the San Juan Basin Health Department hope all Durangoans will view the smoking ban in the same light. In coming weeks, the group will be doing its best to make the transition as easy as possible.

“We are here to support this law going into effect in the easiest way possible,” Day said. “It is a self-enforcing law, but we’re willing to help people have as smooth a transition as possible.” •