Starting on Dec. 1, police officers will ask people on the 16th Street Mall to extinguish their nicotine delivery devices, from cigarettes to vaporizers.
The Denver City Council on Monday unanimously approved the Breathe Easy Ordinance, which will allow cops to issue tickets up to $100 to anyone smoking or using an e-cigarette on the pedestrian mall or within 50 feet of its edges.
The proposal was introduced by Council President Albus Brooks, who said his main concern was the health and welfare of the people of Denver.
Some people expressed concerns that police would use the new ordinance to target people experiencing homelessness, essentially pushing them off the mall. Brooks said that was not his intention, noting that it will not be possible to get arrested for violating the ban, as it is a civil rather than criminal offense.
However, failure to pay the tickets still could lead people to be hounded by collections agencies, and their credit could suffer, critics said.
Smoking already is illegal within 25 feet of building entries in Denver. The city also forbids traditional smoking (but not vaporizing) near city buildings and hospitals and in sports stadiums. State law since 2006 has banned smoking inside.
The council amended the new 16th Street ban at its meeting on Monday night.
Under one approved change, Denver Police Department will issue regular reports on the use of the ordinance, which could highlight whether it’s being disproportionately used against any one group of people.
Councilman Paul Kashmann said he wanted data tracking to ensure that the law applied equally to “17th Street lawyers, conventioneers in town from LA or New York and those who are on the street because they have no home to which to retreat,” he said, adding that he didn’t want the law to be used to “sanitize the visual impact” of the mall. The council unanimously approved the reporting requirement
Kashmann also unsuccessfully proposed that the ordinance would expire in two years unless the council explicitly renews it, also known as a “sunset.”
“Having the sunset … causes us to take a bit more in-depth look,” he said.
Brooks was opposed to the idea of the time limit, though. “To put a sunset on this is to say, ‘What is the importance of doing this health initiative in the first place?'” Brooks said. Only Kashmann and council members Rafael Espinoza Debbie Ortega voted for the sunset.
Espinoza also raised another concern: What if all the smokers just go to Larimer Street?
“People might congregate in those still desirable places to hang out just 50 feet away from the 16th Street Mall,” he said.
But Brooks won’t be pushing for any further anti-smoking rules just yet.
“You have seen the extent of my smoke-free zones,” he said after the meeting. There have been suggestions of bans in parks and other areas, but “that’s a much larger conversation that involves a lot of communities.”