Anti-smoking advocates pressure Breck leaders | VailDaily.com

Anti-smoking advocates pressure Breck leaders

Jane Stebbins/Summit County Correspondent

Nov. 4, Summit County voters approved by a 2-1 margin a referendum that will lead to a ban on smoking in public places – notably bars and restaurants – in unincorporated areas of Summit County.

Proponents of the ban hoped elected officials in the county’s four main towns would then consider how their constituents voted and, at least, begin discussion about imposing bans of their own.

Voters in each town approved the referendum on the straw-vote basis.

In Breckenridge, voters OK’d the measure 741 to 432; in Frisco, 433 to 261; Silverthorne, 696 to 376 and Dillon, 228 to 140.

Smoking opponents want the towns to implement ordinances or put the question on the April municipal ballots.

Mayor Sam Mamula said even though Breckenridge votes can be extrapolated from the countywide election results, they don’t necessarily reflect the desires of in-town voters.

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“(That) assumes everyone (in Breckenridge) who voted (for the countywide ban) was voting for Breckenridge,” he said. “That assumes they know everything and were speaking for town of Breckenridge (and unincorporated areas of the county).”

Councilman Larry Crispell agreed.

“I don’t think it’s constructive to have people outside our community say, “We should do this and we should do this now,'” Crispell said. “They don’t understand the open and inclusive nature of the debates we have. We don’t jump to conclusions. It’s the process we go through that takes us to good ordinances.”

“I’d be more comfortable if I knew what the Breckenridge vote was,” Councilmember Ernie Blake said. “We have a lot of folks in those precincts who don’t live in town. If I knew the Breckenridge vote, that would be enough to me. I don’t like putting restrictions on people, but we do for what we regard as safety reasons, like speed limits.”

The Breckenridge Town Council’s current work session agendas are full, but the council plans to discuss the issue during its first work session in January.

“We don’t want to do anything until we get all the information,” Mamula said. “There are a lot of health issues in Summit County, and smoking isn’t necessarily at the top of the list. We should probably put booze at the top of the list.”

The council has three options: draft an ordinance, do nothing or put the question to a vote.

And, with the exception of Councilmembers Jim Lamb, J.B. Katz and Greg Abernathy, the council doesn’t have a strong opinion. Most want to hear more before they make a decision.

Lamb said the people spoke in the Nov. 4 election and a second vote is not necessary. He favors the drafting of an ordinance. Katz, who declined to comment, has said she is opposed to a ban, saying the decision to allow smoking or not should be left to individual business owners.

“There is nothing I hate worse than being drowned out by somebody’s smoke when I’m eating a meal,” Abernathy said, adding that he favors taking the issue to the voters. “I am sick and tired of other people’s smoke.”

Those views are similar to opinions expressed throughout the county before the election, when people discussed the dangers of secondhand smoke versus the rights involved in owning a business.

“I’m listening and learning,” Crispell said. “There are issues we need to talk about before I can say debate is over.”

Some of those issues include the question of whether the town is over-regulating business owners, if the council is responsible for ensuring the health of restaurant workers, the economic ramifications and the rights of business owners.

“I don’t have a strong position,” Mamula said. “We want to make sure we do the right thing. The restaurant association is very concerned we will chase business elsewhere at a time when the economy is going through a fragile recovery. We can’t do anything without giving everyone an opportunity, in a civil, organized fashion, to let their thoughts be known.”

In some circles, the fear is that international visitors would be put off by a Breckenridge smoking ban and travel elsewhere for their skiing and puffing.