Smoke-free Durango

Healthy norms for a thriving community

Pat Senecal Enlargephoto

Pat Senecal

Final passage of the Smoke Free Ordinance was approved by the Durango City Council on Tuesday night on a 3-1 vote. This ordinance creates a smoke-free environment on city-owned playgrounds, parks, recreation fields and picnic pavilions as well as bus stops.

If you appreciate the councilors passing this ordinance, please write them your thanks, and tell others. This kind of communication will be very important as we begin to educate our residents in the kindest, most concerned way about the health risks they will avoid by enjoying our smoke-free environments.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in Colorado and a major driver of health-care costs with Colorado spending $1.3 billion on smoking-related health-care costs.

More than 80 percent of adult users started smoking when they were young. That’s why the local Lasso Tobacco/Celebrating Community Norms Coalition and state partners have focused education efforts over the last 12 years on preventing young people from even starting. Rates have continued to decrease in our community so that less than 15 percent of high school students now smoke. This already puts us below the rate that the state has targeted in its battle against tobacco.

Colorado’s 10 Winnable Battles are public-health priorities chosen because of their large-scale effects on health and the environment and have evidence-based, cost-effective strategies to address them. One of these strategies is developing and expanding state and local tobacco-free policies.

In 2006, the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act was passed at the state level to eliminate exposure inside public facilities, bars and restaurants, health care and related facilities and at least 15 feet from any entryway to public buildings. This, combined with voter-approved tobacco tax increase and public-health interventions, resulted in at least 100,000 fewer Colorado smokers.

Smoking affects everyone. Besides the burden of health-care costs and lost productivity directly related to people who smoke, secondhand smoke exposure can also lead to chronic diseases including lung disease, cancer and stroke.

Local statistics show that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in La Plata County. Exposure to secondhand smoke restricts blood circulation and exacerbates the health risks for those with heart disease or asthma.

For more than 25 years, the surgeon general has warned that any amount of secondhand smoke poses a health risk. Imagine what secondhand smoke can do to growing young lungs.

Healthy communities come about because residents agree to address health risks in a practical and comprehensive way and work together to make it happen. As a key component, policy influences the greatest number of people by protecting the health of children and adults, reducing the number of cigarettes smoked by smokers and providing an environment in which healthy role modeling can be witnessed by our young people. Therefore, our coalition took aim three years ago at the random exposure of all ages to secondhand smoke in our community.

The La Plata Boys & Girls Club’s Torch Club is one of the groups that surveyed the community to find out what actions individuals wanted to take to limit exposure. Seventy-five percent supported smoke-free parks, playgrounds, recreational fields and two-thirds supported smoke-free patios. We also surveyed restaurant owners. Many had already provided for smoke-free restaurant patios, and 61 percent of those survey supported the ordinance.

Adult supporters presented to varied community, health and business groups as well as advisory boards for Parks and Recreation, Open Space and Natural Land, worked in collaboration with city staff members and at study sessions with city councilors. The ordinance for a smoke-free environment supports the work of our Parks and Recreation, which was chosen as a National Gold Medal recipient by the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration for its pristine care of lands.

The culmination of this persistent outreach and education is an ordinance providing for city-owned public spaces. The policy was approved 4-0 on Nov. 5 by the Durango City Council. The right of residents to breathe smoke-free air where they play in city-owned playgrounds, sports fields, parks, walking along the river trail or waiting for a bus has now been claimed. For this, the LTC/CCN Coalition thanks the City Council.

However, there are exemptions from being smoke-free, including restaurant and bar patios, Hillcrest Golf Course, and nicotine treatment centers. Thus, no health protections are provided for restaurant workers, golfers and clients attempting to kick addictions. Remember, even in small concentrations, secondhand smoke causes acute immediate harm to those exposed.

The community has taken a step forward for a better, healthier quality of life. More steps must be taken in the future to offer, as have more than 600 cities in the U.S. and multiple nations, a society that takes responsibility to encourage healthy habits – ensuring a healthy community for everyone. It is a winnable battle. Join our coalition.

Pat Senecal is the Health Policy and Systems Director at San Juan Basin Health. She can be reached at 335-2048. For more information, visit


Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald