Vaping on the 16th Street Mall, as seen on Oct. 11, 2017, could be a thing of the past after the City Council approved a smoking ban for the pedestrian and transit area. It takes effect Dec. 1. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

Denver approves smoking and vaping ban for its downtown street mall

Smokers and vapers on Denver’s 16th Street Mall are now on notice: Starting Dec. 1, they will need to walk at least 50 feet down a side street before lighting up or puffing.

The Denver City Council approved the public smoking ban 9-0 on Monday night, ending a weeks-long debate about how best to ensure that police don’t use the new restrictions to single out the homeless or service workers on their smoke breaks.

Councilman Paul Kashmann put forth an amendment requiring the Denver Police Department to collect information about who receives tickets, with regular reports to the council.

Even if all it takes to comply with the ban is to venture far enough off the mall, he said, “I just want to be absolutely sure that those who decide to not take that stroll, due either to obstinance or ignorance,” aren’t unfairly targeted.

His colleagues embraced that idea unanimously, but six of the nine present rejected another change proposed by Kashmann — to slap a two-year sunset on the ordinance. That would have required a council review of the measure by 2019 it to remain in effect, as a check to make sure it truly was about public health and “not just for public relations” to improve mall’s image, as Kashmann put it.

“We might as well not do it (at all),” responded¬†council president Albus Brooks, the ban’s sponsor, expressing worry that a time limit would undercut the health campaign that’s behind the measure. “We might as well not take the step to address second-hand smoke. … I think it actually hurts the overall proposal.”

Called “Breathe Easy,” the campaign has been spearheaded by the Downtown Denver Partnership, property owners and public health advocates. Initially, Brooks says, the effort will focus on new signage and public education rather than issuing fines.

Here is what to expect when the new ban takes effect in a month:

  • Banned: All kinds of cigarette and tobacco smoking, as well as the use of vaporizers and e-cigarettes, within 50 feet northeast and southwest of 16th Street. The ban covers the mall from Broadway to Chestnut Place, near Union Station.
  • Marijuana use:¬†This is already banned in public spaces in Denver, but supporters of the new ordinance argue it will help police, who sometimes have struggled to distinguish between tobacco and pot smoking or vaping.
  • Penalty: Violations are a civil infraction, not a crime, with a potential $100 fine. But a police official said officers likely would give an offender information about the new restrictions, and then a warning, before issuing a ticket.

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