Bipartisan plan emerges to return smoking to bars, restaurants, casinos

(Photo/SuperFantastic, Flickr)
(Photo/SuperFantastic, Flickr)
Rocky Mountain News reporter Ed Sealover proves why Colorado political watchers are gnashing their teeth over the possibility Denver might soon become a one-newspaper town.

In Thursday’s Rocky, Sealover breaks the story that Republican and Democratic legislators have hatched a plan to roll back the statewide smoking ban by allowing “bars, restaurants, racetracks and parts of casinos” to be classified as cigar bars — exempt from the ban — if they meet certain criteria. Colorado lawmakers banned smoking in most public places in 2006 and added a ban at casinos the next year, citing concerns over workers’ health.

State Reps. Don Marostica, a Republican, and Ed Casso, a Democrat, plan to introduce legislation that could dramatically expand the number of establishments classified as cigar bars. Under current law, cigar bars could escape the smoking ban if they were in business by 2005, but the new law would do away with the grandfather clause.

“Under the bill, the cigar-tobacco bars would have to apply for a special license, ban anyone under 18 and post signs that smoking is allowed,” the Rocky reports. “No more than 25 percent of the space in most casinos could be a smoking area.” Smokers would also have to purchase their cigarettes or cigars at the establishments.

Rep. Don Marostica, who will be the prime House sponsor, said the effort is driven partly by tales from bar and casino owners about massive losses of business since the ban was enacted.

But it also largely is a matter of wanting business owners and adult patrons to be able to choose the rules under which they operate, said the Loveland Republican, who says he smokes no more than a couple of cigars a year.

“There’s a lot of bars in Adams County that have gone down and under (since the smoking ban), and this just gives them a way to reclaim their business,” said Thornton Democratic Rep. Ed Casso, also a sponsor. “Literally, not every bar is going to convert over to being a smoking bar, but it gives them the option if they want to do that.”

An anti-smoking activist, Smoke-Free Gaming of Colorado head Stephanie Steinberg, decried the proposal:

“The bill basically repeals the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act,” she said. “It’s a way to profit off people who have tobacco addiction.”

You can be sure opponents of the smoking-ban relaxation will point to a study published at the end of the year that showed a 41 percent drop in heart attacks just three years after Pueblo banned workplace smoking. The southern Colorado city enforced a smoking ban before the statewide measure was adopted, so Center for Disease Control researchers could compare heart attack rates with other nearby towns that hadn’t banned workplace smoking.

The rate of hospitalized cases dropped 41 percent three years after the ban of workplace smoking in Pueblo, Colo., took effect. There was no such drop in two neighboring areas, and researchers believe it’s a clear sign the ban was responsible.

The study suggests that secondhand smoke may be a terrible and under-recognized cause of heart attack deaths in this country, said one of its authors, Terry Pechacek of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …

The new study looked at heart attack hospitalizations for three years following the July 1, 2003 enactment of Pueblo’s ban, and found declines as great or greater than what was seen in the other research. …

Smoking bans are designed not only to cut smoking rates but also to reduce secondhand tobacco smoke. It is a widely recognized cause of lung cancer, but its effect on heart disease can be more immediate. It not only damages the lining of blood vessels, but also increases the kind of blood clotting that leads to heart attacks. Reducing exposure to smoke can quickly cut the risk of clotting, some experts said.