Bars rebel against smoking ban

March 1, 2007
photo -  Neil Hager, owner of The Dead Ant Tavern at 4348 Montebello Drive, showed his opposition to the state’s smoking ban with a sign, but he said he won’t openly defy the ban like some owners.  (CAROL LAWRENCE, THE GAZETTE) Photo by
Neil Hager, owner of The Dead Ant Tavern at 4348 Montebello Drive, showed his opposition to the state’s smoking ban with a sign, but he said he won’t openly defy the ban like some owners. (CAROL LAWRENCE, THE GAZETTE) Photo by  
Several Colorado Springs bar owners are rebelling against the statewide smoking ban, inviting their customers to openly defy what they call an “illegal law." Bruce Hicks, owner of Murray Street Darts, met with nearly two dozen other bar owners and managers Wednesday, encouraging them to join a “civil disobedience” protest that calls for businesses to collect $1 from each smoker for a “get out of jail fund." The businesses will go to court to fight tickets they are issued for violating the smoking ban and use the fund to pay fines, Hicks said.
The fines are $200 for a first offense, $300 for a second and $500 for any others written within a year. The eight-month-old smoking ban has cost him 25 percent of his business since it went into effect, Hicks said. He began allowing smoking in the bar three weeks ago, he said, which has “brought back my 25 percent.” Hicks said eight businesses had agreed to join the rebellion last week. Owners of three — the Adam’s Apple Lounge on Austin Bluffs Parkway, DJ’s Bar and Grill on East Fillmore Street, and Hicks’ bar on Murray Boulevard — confirmed their involvement to The Gazette. Hicks said if business owners vig- orously fight the tickets in court, prosecuting the cases will be more of a burden than the fines. “It’s going to take the state of Colorado $6,000 to collect $200,” Hicks said. “How long do you think the public will allow that?” Colorado Springs police are investigating two businesses suspected of openly violating the ban, according to spokesman Lt. Rafael Cintron. He would not say if the businesses are among the bars vowing to defy the ban, but said the department will take “enforcement action” against any business found to be in violation. “As we become aware of those places, we are going to investigate,” Cintron said. When it went into effect July 1, the ban made it illegal to smoke in any indoor public place except casinos, the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport, cigar/hookah bars, tobacco shops and businesses not open to the public that have three or fewer employees. The only bar in Colorado Springs that has qualified for the exemption is longtime downtown cigar bar 15C in an alley off Bijou Street. The Legislature is considering a bill, approved Wednesday by the House, that would eliminate casinos’ exemption. One local bar, the Dead Ant Tavern on Montebello Drive, has shown its opposition to the ban even before it went into effect by hanging a sign outside reading, “My business, my customers, our choice!” Although the ban has cost him 20 percent to 30 percent of his business, owner Neil Hager said, he isn’t planning to join those defying it. “I would join them if I thought it would do any good,” Hager said. Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, a supporter of the ban, called the protest “pretty much useless.” “Civil disobedience has been used for much greater causes,” he said Wednesday. Business owners who have lost business because of the smoking ban “should look at ways to appeal to nonsmokers.” During the meeting at Joe’s Bar with the other bar owners and managers, Hicks said the idea of a protest came to him when his wife told him that for the second time in a month, they could not afford to pay themselves a salary. “That morning, I said, ‘Something’s got to be done,’” he said. Hicks said he is aware of only one ticket written at a business participating in the protest. Charlene Runyan, owner of Joe’s Bar, said one of her bartenders received a ticket Friday because a customer was smoking inside the bar. Customers were allowed to smoke that night, she said, but she doesn’t plan on defying the law along with Hicks. “It’s been very, very devastating for all of us,” Runyan said of the ban. Linda Picarillo, co-owner of the Adam’s Apple Lounge, said she let customers smoke last week. Since then, she said, business has picked up. “People are sitting in here and they are staying,” Picarillo said. She called the law inconsistent, particularly with the exemption for casinos. “If it’s a health issue, why aren’t they protecting them?” Picarillo asked.
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