Lawmakers gave initial approval to a statewide smoking ban on Monday, warning it would be better for the legislature to take the initiative rather than leaving it to outside groups threatening to put a measure on the November ballot.
Before approving the measure (House Bill 1175), the House Health & Human Services Committee agreed to exempt people living in publicly owned housing to allow people to smoke in their residences, but they refused to exempt veterans organizations.
"We asked them to give everything. If they want to make that choice, it's legal in America," said Rep. Mark Cloer, R-Colorado Springs.
The proposal would still allow smoking in the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport and in cigar bars.
Friends and relatives of Charles Oriez told lawmakers he wanted to testify in favor of a smoking ban again this year, but he succumbed to lung cancer and asked them to appear on his behalf. Last year, Oriez told lawmakers he worked next to people who smoked at their desks at a telecommunications company for six years in the 1980s and believed that is what caused him to get non-small cell lung cancer.
"He asked me to be his lobbyist," said Jo Evans, a lobbyist for 22 years before she retired four years ago.
The measure passed 9-4 and now goes to the full House for debate.
Rep. Mike May, R-Parker, said lawmakers should not try to pick winners and losers after a parade of business groups asked lawmakers for exemptions, ranging from pool halls to casinos to taverns. May said businesses in communities that have approved smoking bans are losing customers to restaurants that are not affected by the ban.
Rep. Bill Berens, R-Broomfield, said several groups are ready to try to put an initiative on the November ballot that would take the decision-making out of the hands of lawmakers.
"It can either be done at the Legislature, or it can be done at the ballot box," he said.
Tom Barton, owner of two taverns in the Denver area, said about 70 percent of his patrons smoke and he said a smoking ban would hurt his business. He said it's up to the customers if they want to frequent establishments that allow smoking.
"They have a choice whether they want to come to my establishment or not come to it. It's only those who choose to be exposed to smoke," he told lawmakers.
Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said member restaurants have changed their position and they now support a statewide ban because they want all restaurants to play by the same rules.
A similar proposal was killed last spring in the Senate when Republicans lined up against it on grounds it was antibusiness and a few Democrats joined them to block the proposal.
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