Tobacco Education Center

Boulder's Smoke-Free Law Makes Good Economic Sense (2000)


Big Tobacco wants people to believe Boulder's reasonable no-smoking law is not working. Big Tobacco (through the use of other groups and individuals) will say and do anything to try to prevent other Colorado communities from passing similar laws because these policies hurt Big Tobacco's profits.

The latest sales tax figures for 1999 indicate once again that sales tax revenues were up 4.31% in restaurants and bars. Using city data, the Boulder city finance department reports that sales in this category for 1999 are a positive "strength."

The Boulder Daily Camera reported (Jan. 26, 1998) that sales tax revenues in restaurants and bars "increased 3.97 percent from January through October 1996 over the same period in 1995. Revenues from January through October 1997 increased 3.14 percent over the previous year." In 1998 sales tax revenues in restaurants and bars increased another 4.83%, according to the city's finance department.

Sales-tax revenue reports are the only data that can measure food-service sales in an unbiased and accurate fashion. Long-term economic impact studies based on sales tax reports in more than 25 other communities with similar laws (including Aspen, Snowmass, and Telluride) indicate that smoke-free policies do not hurt business. Big tobacco and its front groups spread misinformation about these policies by using surveys that are based upon anecdotal information and owner perceptions rather than sales-tax revenues and other scientifically sound data.

The Boulder law prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars except in fully enclosed and separately ventilated areas, and prohibits smoking in the workplace and all other indoor public places. Similar laws also exist in Colorado in Aspen, Pitkin County, Snowmass, and Telluride.

Testimonials -

"Out of more than 300 eating and drinking establishments in the City of Boulder, the Environmental Enforcement Office receives complaints on only five or six bars that seem to consistently disregard the ordinance. We have not received a complaint about a restaurant being in violation for more than four years. Approximately every nine months to a year, we receive a call about someone allowing smoking in a place of work. One educational visit has always taken care of this type of complaint." Terry Steinborn, Environmental Enforcement Officer for Boulder, January 2000

"I haven't heard a lot of complaints, " says Marilyn Haas, Executive Director of Downtown, Boulder Inc. "I did at first...But I think people are coping." Boulder Daily Camera, January 26,1998

"Smoking curbs fail to doom bars, eateries. Tax receipts up in Boulder, but the rate of growth slows." Rocky Mountain News, February 2, 1997

"Tom Eldridge, owner of Tom's Restaurant, said he thinks the smoking ban has boosted his business." "I've certainly had a lot of favorable comments from customers." Rocky Mountain News, February 2, 1997

"Overall, it hasn't hurt us. Our business is up and increasing," said Marty Carlstorm general manager of the Oasis bar in downtown Boulder. Rocky Mountain News, November 14, 1996

"It's kind of regular, everyday life now...There are over 300 bars and restaurants in town, and we have complete compliance with all but a couple of them. It's a way of life now," said Terry Steinborn Boulder's environmental enforcement officers. Rocky Mountain News, November 14, 1996

P.O. Box 791;
1300 Canyon Blvd.
Boulder, Colorado 80306
Tel: (303) 441-3239

March 17, 2000

RE: Boulder's Smoking in Public Places Ordinance

To Whom it May Concern:

This letter discusses the city of Boulder's experiences with enforcing the Smoking in Public Places Ordinance, passed by the voters in November of 1995. The ordinance essentially prohibits smoking in all places of work, retail stores, all restaurants and bars (except in physically separate, independently ventilated rooms that meet specific criteria), and other public areas.

The only exemptions are private dwellings, private functions not open to the public, tobacco stores, and the physically separate, independently ventilated smoking permitted areas in bars and restaurants.

This has been a very popular ordinance in Boulder, especially after the business community found that profits were not negatively impacted. Building owners also found that cleaning costs decreased since smoking was prohibited in office and retail buildings.

Restaurant managers mentioned that prohibiting smoking is easier than having a smoking permitted section. Seating is less complicated than having both a smoking and non-smoking section. Usually, the non-smoking customers don't stay at the table for long periods of time after finishing the meal, so the restaurant managers find they can serve more customers in an evening.

There are advantages to the business community if the municipality passes and enforces the law. Everyone has to play by the same rules, so customers choose who to patronize based on other considerations, such as price and service. If an ordinance is passed but no educational or enforcement program takes place for the first six months, continued compliance will be unlikely. After the first six months, an ordinance requires minimal education and enforcement resources.

A personal observation from one of the enforcement officers: "People frequently come up to us and quietly thank us for this ordinance and the enforcement efforts. The people who oppose the ordinance are vocal, the supporters are quieter, but the appreciation is there -- and, the opposition wears out after a while."

Of more than 300 eating and drinking establishments in the city of Boulder, the Environmental Enforcement Office receives complaints on only five or six bars that consistently allow customers to disregard the ordinance.

We have not received a complaint about a restaurant being in violation for more than four years. Approximately every nine months to a year, we receive a call about someone allowing smoking in a place of work. One educational visit has always taken care of this type of complaint.

The Environmental Enforcement Office is charged with the responsibility for enforcing this ordinance. There are currently two full-time Environmental Enforcement Officers and one 3/4 time Environmental Aide in the department.

The enforcement officers are commissioned peace officers who carry guns and issue summonses. When checking for compliance in the bars, Environmental Enforcement Officers usually include police officers in the enforcement team for support. Several Boulder Police Officers also enforce the Smoking Ordinance while performing routine bar checks.

The ordinance originally met with vocal opposition but passed with a substantial margin when put to a public vote. The first six months after the ordinance passed were difficult for enforcement officers. There were vocal opponents who were reluctant to come into compliance with the code.

Enforcement officers spent approximately 30 hours per week educating bar and restaurant staff about the requirements of the ordinance. Several summonses were issued to proprietors of recalcitrant establishments. There were few complaints about (or from) retail stores and places of work.

Approximately six months after the ordinance passed, the call load dramatically decreased from 10 to 20 calls per day to approximately two calls per week about the ordinance. The Smoking in Public Places Ordinance currently takes approximately one hour every two to three weeks for administration and enforcement. This enforcement consists of walking through the five or six bars where patrons consistently violate the ordinance and issuing summonses to violators.

If anyone has any questions or would like more information, please feel free to call me at (303) 441-4239 or e-mail to: mailto:// . Also, if an ordinance passes and the enforcement officers would like advice about educational materials and enforcement techniques, please have them call.


Terry Steinborn
Environmental Enforcement Officer
City of Boulder, Colorado

Facts You Should Know

  • Half of all sit-down food service establishments in Colorado (3,800+) are smoke-free.

  • 78% of Colorado's adult population doesn't smoke.

  • Tobacco smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing compounds, including six are sources of reproductive or developmental problems.

  • Secondhand tobacco smoke causes as many as 62,000 heart disease deaths, 2,700 deaths from sudden infant death syndrome, 26,000 new cases of asthma, and increases the risk of cervical cancer and spontaneous abortions. (California EPA 1997)

  • Food service workers exposed to tobacco smoke have a 50-90% increased risk of getting lung cancer.

For further information contact: Pete Bialick GASP of Colorado (Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution) 303-444-9799

Promoting smoke-free policies and educating the public about the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke since 1977.