FORT COLLINS - Lighting up a cigarette in public might soon become even less welcome in Fort Collins.
City officials are considering expanding no-smoking rules to include outdoor dining areas and bar patios.
Smoking also would be prohibited within 20 feet of an outdoor dining area under the proposed regulation, and banned at Transfort bus benches and other transit facilities, such as MAX stations.
During a recent City Council work session on the proposal, most council members said they support applying the smoking ban to outdoor eating areas. They also would consider regulating electronic cigarettes and banning smoking in parks, on trails and in heavily used pedestrian areas such as Old Town Square.
Mayor pro tem Gerry Horak said many people don't want to be around cigarette smoke, even in an outdoor setting.
"I think the society has changed," he said. "The society here in town is ready for it."
Current regulations ban smoking in public buildings, places of employment and businesses that are used by the public, including bars and restaurants.
The city has had restrictions on smoking since 1984, when voters approved a smoking ordinance. The smoking ban inside restaurants and bars has been in effect since 2003.
The city ordinance prohibits smoking within 20 feet of all building entrances, including those off patios, but does not specifically prohibit smoking in outdoor areas.
The law has resulted in some businesses permitting customers to smoke on their patios and outdoor dining areas outside of the 20-foot limit, said Beth Sowder, neighborhood services manager.
"You have places that allow smoking on part of their patios," she said. "The issue comes up that if it's OK to smoke at one table, why can't everyone else?" Sowder said. "Enforcement has become kind of confusing."
The proposed changes also were spurred by complaints from residents about smoking in or adjacent to outdoor dining areas, she said.
The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment supports expanded smoking restrictions as part of a grant-funded tobacco cessation program. Health officials say secondhand smoke poses a health risk to nonsmokers, even in outdoor areas.
Secondhand smoke is considered a carcinogenic agent by the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies. Research has found that exposure can worsen chronic health problems such as asthma and heart disease, officials say.
Restricting outdoor smoking is a growing trend nationally and in the state, Sowder said. In Colorado, smoke-free outdoor dining is required in Arvada, Avon, Edgewater, Eagle County, Firestone, Louisville and Superior.
In downtown Boulder, the busy Pearl Street Mall is designated as smoke free.
The impact of expanding no-smoking regulations to Fort Collins businesses is not clear. Of the 466 restaurants, bars and coffee shops identified by city staff members, 107 have outdoor seating areas, Sowder said. Of those, 16 said they allow smoking in outdoor areas.
Smoking is allowed on the patio at the popular bar Mayor of Old Town, 632 S. Mason St., on Wednesday nights only, owner Kevin Bolin said. An area more than 20 feet from the door is set aside for cigar smokers.
The weekly event typically draws dozens of customers, Bolin said. Customers are aware of the event, so those who wish to avoid the smoke know to stay off the patio.
Expanding the city's smoking ordinance would impact the business, he said.
"I would not be in favor of it," Bolin said.
Smoking is not an issue at Mugs Coffee Lounge, 261 S. College Ave., and its outdoor seating area, barista Krystal Meyer said. Smokers make an effort to be considerate and maintain their distance from nonsmokers and the shop's entrance.
"I think that a lot of businesses already say there is no smoking on the patio," she said. "I think that's something smokers are pretty aware of."
Meyer said expanding smoking regulations could impact businesses in Old Town, especially if a ban covers high-pedestrian areas.
Fort Collins resident Chevon Midkiff, who said she regularly visits Old Town, said her family has not been affected by smoking in outdoor dining areas. But she would support expanding restrictions to cover areas such as Old Town Square and Oak Street Plaza.
As the mother of two daughters, Midkiff said she is concerned about the health impacts of secondhand smoke, especially on children.
"I don't like when I'm at a park and there are people smoking," she said. "I think there should still be rights for those people to be able to smoke, but ... I guess my opinion is because of my kids."
A proposal to expand smoking restrictions to include outdoor dining areas and bar patios is expected to be considered by City Council in November.
A proposal to extend restrictions to parks and heavily used pedestrian areas might come next year after more input is received from residents, businesses and city departments that would be affected by the rules, Sowder said.
Smoking restrictions have been controversial in Fort Collins, with little middle ground. A poll of 1,358 respondents found 61.1 percent strongly supported extending the regulations while 22.5 percent strongly opposed the idea.
"At least with this topic, there are strong feelings one way or the other," Sowder said.
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