15-foot rule puts squeeze on some smokers, eateries
A new state law that forces people to do their smoking outside Colorado restaurants, bars and other establishments is threatening to send some of them down the street as well.That may be an unintended consequence of the part of the law that prohibits smoking not only in buildings, but within 15 feet of their doors.It might sound logical enough as a way of keeping smoke out of buildings. But it’s causing problems in places such as downtown Glenwood, where storefronts are wedged so close together that smokers can’t stay the required distance away from entryways.”People get frustrated and they just stand outside the door,” said Chris Reed, general manager of Springs Downtown Bar & Grill, and the adjacent Doc Holliday’s Saloon.Glenwood police chief Terry Wilson agrees such establishments face a challenge dealing with smokers.”If you get them 15 feet from one door they’re within 15 feet of another door. … It becomes this pass-it-down-the-block kind of thing,” he said.
“Basically I think we’re going to have to stack everybody under the Grand Avenue Bridge.”Reed also wondered about the possibility of people using the pedestrian area under the bridge, but said that probably wouldn’t appeal to others using that area.Wilson said his department has taken a few calls a week from people concerned that others weren’t abiding by the 15-foot rule.The rule is one of the challenges facing local communities as they begin to implement the statewide law, which took effect at the start of the month. The cities of Rifle and Glenwood Springs are both working on passing municipal ordinances that mirror the state law, so they can prosecute violators in municipal court and keep all fines collected from them, rather than having to return 25 percent of proceeds to the state.But aggressively policing violators isn’t a high priority for the cities’ police departments. Thanks to time limitations in the Rifle Police Department, chief Daryl Meisner plans to have the department enforce the smoking ban when it receives complaints, rather than looking for scofflaws.Wilson’s goal, for now anyway, is to have his department focus on educating businesses and smokers about their need to comply with the new law.The previous Glenwood ordinance banned smoking in public places, retail outlets and grocery stores, and in workplaces upon the request of employees, and required nonsmoking sections in restaurants of 25 seats or more. Wilson said he remembers few if any tickets being issued for violations of the ordinance. Violations carried a fine of $25 to $100. Rifle’s maximum fine under its previous ordinance also was $100.
The state law is punishable by a fine of up to $200 for the first violation in a calendar year, $300 for the second, and $500 for any more violations that year.Reed said the law can be hard for bartenders to enforce, particularly in the case of the 15-foot rule.”We’re trying to watch things on the inside as well as the outside,” she said.Other local communities are evaluating the new state law and questions surrounding enforcing it and educating people about it.”We want to watch and see how is this going to play out, how much we’re really going to have to do, how much is going to be volunteer (compliance),” said Juanita Satterfield, town administrator in Parachute. David Blanchard, town manager in New Castle, said he hasn’t heard of concerns about the new law in New Castle, but is aware of the 15-foot rule being an issue elsewhere.
“It’s very difficult for the businesses to police,” he said.Wilson worries that cigarette butt litter could become a major problem downtown because of the new state law. He also fears that in places without room for the 15-foot rule to be followed, businesses might hesitate to put out outdoor cigarette receptacles closer to their doorways because they might be encouraging people to smoke there.City officials also are trying to dispel rumors that the city prohibits businesses from putting out receptacles. Wilson said he knows of no such restriction, as long as passage in rights of way isn’t blocked.The Downtown Business Association recently was granted city funds to hire a contractor to increase cleanup efforts downtown. DBA vice president Dennis Bader said the contractor already is reporting seeing more cigarette butts on sidewalks, especially on Grand Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets.”That was always an area that wasn’t real good anyway,” he said.Staff Writer Heidi Rice contributed to this report.
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