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Coloradans for Smokers' Rights
Coloradans for Smokers' Rights

The History

In the mid-80s, when the U S Surgeon General first started asking Americans to ban smokers, a very far-seeing guy, Steve Cronin, started the first smokers' rights group in Colorado, "People for Smokers' Rights". Steve bought ads with his own money in small newspapers, and soon had over 100 people who felt as he did. When the first airline smoking ban (so-called) test was enacted, Steve led his group to the airport where they passed out flyers and marched in protest. Thus started the smokers' rights movement in Colorado.

Late in 1988, Will Fox of TeamAmerica organized a series of meetings in Colorado for R J Reynolds trying to get smokers to band together to fight oppression. Well over 100 people met in each of Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Ft Collins, Boulder, Arvada, Aurora, Grand Junction, Lakewood, Northglenn, Englewood, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Each of these meetings created a new smokers' rights group. At the end of the organizing push, well over 1,500 smokers belonged to groups in Colorado. "Englewood Smokers' Rights" elected Robert V. "Sandy" Sanden, Jr., as President.

And it was not a minute to soon. In January, 1989, just before Colorado's legislature came into session, one of the Denver members presented a bill increasing Colorado's cigarette tax by 25 cents a pack. Immediately, the Englewood group called for pickets to walk the sidewalk in front of the home of Pat Grant, the representative who introduced the legislation. As it so happened, Representative Grant's home was the location that very evening of the formal pre-session dinner for the House of Representatives. Every Representative had to pass through that line of pickets on their way to dinner. Finally, Representative Grant's assistant came out, told the pickets they had made their point, and the group disbanded.

The next morning, well over 100 smokers from all over Colorado descended on Capitol Hill, and within a couple of days the bill was thrown out. All of those Representatives and their assistants and staff remember well what happens when they try to legislate higher tobacco taxes in Colorado. Although a subsequent group of legislators (1994) put a tobacco tax increase on the ballot for voters to decide (it failed overwhelmingly), there have been NO tobacco tax increases in Colorado in the last 11 years!

In the meantime, all over the U S, companies and smaller governmental subdivisions enacted smoking bans. Even though airline business dropped dramatically (more than 15%) following the early test, and several airlines either went out of business or went into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, anti-smoking analysts said smoking had nothing to do with the airline demise. A few airports instituted smoking bans and many others considered following suit. The Federal Legislature started discussion to extend the earlier ban on flights shorter than two hours to one on virtually all domestic flights.

In Denver, USWest, the largest in area of the Baby Bells, declared "No Smoking" in all its buildings in all 14 states. And Denver's Mayor Pena proposed an executive order banning smoking in all of Denver's buildings including Stapleton International Airport. Immediately Steve Cronin developed a petition, and all the smokers' rights group members in Colorado started circulating copies. Within a couple of weeks the combined groups had collected well over 7,500 signatures, most from within the city. Mayor Pena's office refused to accept the petition. Finally, the whole People for Smokers' Rights group accompanied by Sandy Sanden and other Englewood group members (most of whom lived in the City) carried the petition to Pena's office. He refused to acknowledge it; Denver's news people openly laughed when reporting the petition. Pena said it made no difference. He said he had to "protect the health" of everyone in the City of Denver. Two pockets of smokers remained: City Commissioner-At-Large, Cathy Reynolds, is a smoker, and smoking is allowed in her office at the City and County Building; and Denver Treasurer, Wellington Webb, allowed a smoking room in his offices in the County Annex. Although Pena's office was flooded by calls, he wasn't to be budged, and Executive Order 99 stands.

In the Spring of 1991, Pena decided not to run for reelection in order to work on the Clinton Presidential election (and he was subsequently named Transportation Secretary in the Clinton Cabinet). The Mayoral election front runner was Denver District Attorney, Norm Early, an avid anti-smoker, and he led by a very large margin in the Primaries. Sandy Sanden approached Wellington Webb and asked about Executive Order 99. Webb said that one of his first acts as Mayor would be to withdraw the Executive Order. Smokers' rights group members all over Denver went to work for Wellington Webb, and he won the election by a small margin.

But Wellington Webb is a liar and a self-serving politician like all the others. After he was sworn in as Mayor, he refused to see Sanden or Cronin. And he refused to revoke Executive Order 99. Cronin went on the radio to try and win support, but the interviewer, Peter Boyles, wouldn't let him get a word in edgewise. Billy Allison, the President of the Colorado Springs group, did a TV debate recorded in Pueblo by a moderator who was fair, and he totally creamed the President of GASP, Peter Bialik.

Shortly after the Mayoral and City Council election, a new City Council person, Polly Flobeck, proposed an ordinance banning smoking everywhere inside public buildings in Denver, restaurants and bars included. Reports from City Council said the ordinance was written by the chief of Denver Health Medical in conjunction with the Manager of the Colorado Restaurant Association. Sandy Sanden was interviewed by Paul Day of KCNC4 in Denver, but the Channel 4 editors chopped it up so bad, it almost sounded like Sanden supported the ban. Next Sanden Faxed details of the ban and a request to help fight it to 75 Denver restaurants. The owner of The Fresh Fish Company and Proof of the Pudding literally stormed into the Colorado Restaurant Association office, and that Association quickly changed its tune. The ordinance was toned down to only limit the space allotted for smokers in restaurants and leave bars alone, and it added an allowance for smoking areas in Denver stadiums and non-city-owned buildings. A total ban in hospitals, even if they had separate smoking rooms, and nursing homes stood. It was at least a partial victory, and the issue has not come up again.

McDonald's banned smoking in all company-owned stores and recommended a ban in all franchise stores. Most franchise owners followed the company lead. Steve Cronin ate breakfast at McDonald's almost every morning. He was enraged. He rallied everyone in the state and every McDonald's received multiple calls from smokers' rights group members. When that didn't change anything, Steve organized pickets and every Saturday for about six months Steve and his group picketed the main store of a group of four owned by the same person. The Silverthorne McDonald's added a smoking room, and a few franchise McDonald's outside highly populated areas kept their smoking areas, but it most cases it did no good.

The Colorado Legislature, in a sincere desire to not tangle with smokers again, passed a ballot proposal to let voters decide if they wanted to raise tobacco taxes. Legislatures in California, Oregon, Arizona, and other places decided the same thing at the same time. R J Reynolds, Philip Morris, and the Tobacco Institute all wanted to help defeat the tax proposals. Sandy Sanden and Steve Cronin, and Billy Allison and his Vice President were split on the issue. Sanden and Allison welcomed the tobacco company help, but Cronin and the Colorado Springs VP felt that tobacco company help would destroy the rights' groups' credibility. In the long run, Cronin was absolutely right. In the meantime, though, taxes were on the ballot, and there was no money to fight them. With the help of a lot of smokers, the ballot issue in Colorado was soundly defeated, but it passed in every other state. Will Fox felt the smokers' support was what made the difference in Colorado, but the differences in philosophy split the smokers' rights groups.

The Colorado smokers decided to put together a single group with separate meetings where possible in various areas. They called the new group Coloradans for Smokers' Rights and elected Sandy Sanden its President.

On a state level, Ft Collins and Boulder are completely smoke free, even on the outdoor Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder. Every mall in Colorado is smoke free. Several restaurant chains, like Healthy Habit, are smoke free along with an increasing number of individual restaurants. City of Aurora, once a bastion of support for individual rights, has a proposed resolution which would ask restaurants to voluntarily be either smoke free or have separately-ventilated fully-enclosed smoking areas. When Denver International Airport opened, Wellington Webb allowed franchises to two bars which could allow smoking, one in the main terminal and one in Concourse A, but outside that, Denver's Executive Order 99 remains in effect. Former Governor Roy Romer, now Democratic National Committee Chairman, issued an Executive Order banning smoking in all State buildings under his control, and the new Republican Governor, Bill Owens, upheld that order.

The last meeting of Coloradans for Smokers' Rights was at the 11th Annual Picnic in August.

Patti Dunn spoke at the last Aurora City Council meeting, and several of us are going to the next meeting when they hold the debate on the new ordinance. Paul Vegors continues to get letters published in both of Denver's newspapers.

In the meantime, we remain, "Coloradans for Smokers' Rights."