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Upset you can't eat and smoke in Florida? Move to Denver

The Mile High City might have lots of physically fit, health-conscious hikers and bikers, but it is way behind cities like New York, Boston and Dallas when it comes to cracking down on smoking.

This week, the City Council scrapped a proposed ban on smoking in restaurants after the council president, a smoker, said a public hearing would be a waste of time. And the incoming mayor? He is a brew pub owner who favors an unlikely "regional" ban.

Banning smoking is always a tough sell, but in a state where just 15 percent of adults are obese _ the lowest rate in the nation _ and 14,000-foot peaks beckon from a few miles away, many are wondering why there is a debate. Even working-class Pueblo has a smoking ban.

"It's stunning," councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt said. "With our reputation of being a progressive city in fitness and health, it's inconceivable."

Opponents of a ban say the measure would have sent smokers to the suburbs and is the last thing Denver's struggling economy needs. The city is facing a $50-million budget deficit and expects to lay off scores of workers.

"There's a lot of people who are on the edge and we don't want to push these people over the edge and out of business," said Cindy Weindling of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Smoking bans in restaurants and bars have been approved in about 100 cities and towns across the nation, according to the antismoking group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

However, the trend seems largely confined to the Northeast and West Coast. Just four states _ California, Delaware, New York and Florida _ ban smoking in restaurants. Connecticut will join the list in October and Maine in January.

While the presence of the tobacco industry might explain the reluctance to ban smoking in the South, something different may be at work here.

"Western individualism is often a strength in this region," said Daniel Kemmis, director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana and a former Missoula, Mont., mayor. "I'd be surprised if any interior Western state would pass a statewide smoking ban."

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