Council snuffs out tobacco ban

A tied vote during the Alamosa city council’s most recent meeting defeated a resolution to prohibit tobacco use in Alamosa city parks and other outdoor recreational areas owned by the city.

Youth from the Get R!EAL Coalition had asked the council to expand the city’s clean air ordinance.

The proposed resolution before the council last Wednesday would have prohibited all tobacco use including cigarettes and chewing tobacco on city-owned parks, playgrounds and other open recreational areas such as ball fields and trails.

The resolution stated the measure was necessary to protect citizen health particularly children using the city parks and ball fields, and to provide a positive role model for youth.

Voting for a resolution prohibiting tobacco on city-owned outdoor recreational areas were Councilors April Gonzales, Josef Lucero and Leland Romero. Voting against it were Councilors Greg Gillaspie, Charles Griego and Mayor Farris Bervig. Councilor Kathy Rogers was absent due to recent surgery. The tied vote meant the measure failed.

Gonzales told the youth who attended the council’s July 1 meeting they now have the option of going through a petition process to put the measure on the ballot if they wish.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said the city’s current ordinances are not consistent with the state clean indoor air act, so regardless of the action the council decided to take on the outdoor tobacco use resolution, the council needed to revise its ordinances to correspond with the state law.

Schwiesow said in some respects the city’s existing ordinance is more permissive and in some respects less so than the state act. The state law would override the city’s ordinance in those matters where the city’s ordinance is more lenient, such as tobacco use in bars. The state law prohibits virtually all indoor smoking whereas the city’s ordinance had allowed smoking in bars.

Schwiesow presented several choices for the council: 1) prohibit smoking, but not other forms of tobacco, in city parks/outdoor areas; 2) place outdoor tobacco use in the city’s code of ordinances so violating the code would constitute a criminal act; 3) overhaul the current code to include indoor and outdoor use; 4) overhaul the current code to correspond with the state indoor act and address outdoor tobacco use in Alamosa; or 5) not take any further action.

Gonzales made a motion to go with option #4. She said she was shocked by the bags of cigarette butts the Get R!EAL youth brought to the city council during an earlier presentation.

Councilor Lucero was another proponent of the tobacco-free resolution. He said he had fought for years to pass the indoor clean air act in the city. He said many college campuses in Colorado are becoming clean air campuses, and the SLV Regional Medical Center is a clean air campus.

He said the young people who asked for this resolution were asking the city council to make a difference in the community, and if the council did not have the courage to do that, “what good are we?”

He said in the absence of that, perhaps the voters could be asked to make a decision at the ballot box.

Gillaspie said if it went to the voters, the majority would outvote the minority, and it is the smokers’ right to smoke.

Gonzales asked, “so we have to keep it from passing, is that what you are saying?”

Griego said he would like to see a work session on the topic and invite smokers to present their side as well.

Mayor Bervig said, “I am concerned that government is trying to do everything. I am not sure I totally support that.”

The mayor said he was aware of tobacco’s harmful effects and did not smoke but was not sure he wanted to support the outdoor smoking ban.

Griego said he was also a nonsmoker and believed it was important to teach children that smoking is bad and can ruin their health, but he believed smokers should be afforded equal rights. He said tobacco is still legal.

“If we take this right away, pretty soon we take another right and that’s called communism.”

Gillaspie said the proposed resolution carried no enforcement power “so why have it?” He said a bunch of signs in the park would not be obeyed and would not be very inviting to tourists.

Romero said he believed signs were helpful. He said he noticed a difference when signs were placed in the park areas asking pet owners to pick up after their animals.
© Copyright: Alamosanews

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