Bar owners, veterans groups and bingo operators who begged state lawmakers to treat them just like casinos and exempt them from a statewide smoking ban got their wish, sort of, when a Senate committee last week voted to include casinos in the ban.
Under the measure (House Bill 1175) now heading to the Senate for full debate, smoking would be allowed only in cigar bars, small businesses with less than three employees, and the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport.
Chuck Ford, who represents small taverns across the state, said the ban would be devastating to small businesses, with or without the casino exemption.
"We believe with all our hearts a lot of people will go out of business," Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver, said the measure would go into effect on July 1 and protect thousands of workers in bars, restaurants and taverns that are not covered by local bans.
"I hope that is what happens for the sake of the workers of Colorado," Grossman said.
Stephanie Steinberg, who represents patrons and workers from the group Smoke Free Gaming of Colorado, said casino workers often get sick.
"They refer to it as the casino crud. By allowing exemptions, you are exempting peoples’ lives," she told lawmakers in support of banning smoking in casinos.
Veterans groups said an exemption for casinos would deprive them and other nonprofit groups of revenue from bingo games and drive those who smoke to the casinos.
Sen. Jim Dyer, R-Littleton, said supporters of a statewide ban want to level the playing field so that businesses that are covered by local smoking bans don’t lose customers to businesses not covered by smoking bans. He said the bill is an attempt to regulate competition, not ban smoking.
"They want the state to help them with their competition problem," Dyer said.
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.
The Colorado Restaurant Association supports the legislation because it would make everyone play by the same rules. The group represents 5,000 restaurants, more than half the restaurants in the state.
Overall, at least 10 states and the District of Columbia have enacted statewide smoking bans, according to the American Cancer Society. They are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. New Jersey exempts Atlantic City casinos.