Smoking cigarettes in public places of Denver.
My mother was visiting Denver for a family gathering two years ago and several of us were having lunch at a big table in the bar area of a LoDo restaurant owned by the mayor. We had barely ordered drinks when a nearby patron lit a cigarette.
Mom, who started smoking dried corn silk rolled in cigarette papers as a child and was a serious nicotine addict well into her 40s, was the first to complain.
"Is somebody smoking in here?" she asked in an accusatory tone that surely sent a wave of shame through everyone who ever had a mother, particularly those of us who had been caught sneaking cigarettes on the playground at St. John Vianney school 30-some years ago.
(I swear I didn't do it, Mom. It wasn't me. It was Nancy O'Neil. Honest.)
The smoke continued to waft annoyingly in our direction, and my brother and sister-in-law, both reformed smokers, glared reproachfully at the guy at the bar with the Marlboro.
My daughter, the good girl who never got caught sneaking cigarettes, was waving the smoke away from her face theatrically and acting like she'd just witnessed a felony.
The bar patron, meanwhile, ordered another beer and ignored us completely.
It's when I realized how far behind the curve we are here in Colorado.
The other members of my family were living in places where smoking bans have been in effect for years. Thirteen states and dozens of cities long ago banned smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces.
The scene at the Wynkoop Brewing Company also explains a lot about why Colorado, which stubbornly rejected statewide smoking bans for years, suddenly caught the wave.
(Did I mention we were at the mayor's smoky bar?)
When John Hickenlooper was campaigning for office in 2003, he made it clear that the only kind of smoking ban he'd advocate was a regional or statewide law. He said he didn't want to see a local ordinance put Denver business owners at a disadvantage with their suburban competitors.
Cynics accused him of greedy self-interest and said the statewide ban would never happen. His opponent, Don Mares, said it was an urgent health issue in Denver, one that required immediate action.
In his first year in office, Hickenlooper even had to hold off an insurgency in the Denver City Council. Some council members
tried to pass a citywide smoking ban, saying, face it, the state would never act.
Hickenlooper persuaded them to be patient.
So while the names of Sen. Dan Grossman and Rep. Mike May are plain as the sponsors of the bill, while Grossman and May deserve enormous credit for countering the barrage of opposition from smokers' rights organizations and the tobacco lobby, and while Gov. Bill Owens' signature was the final stroke that put the measure into law, the momentum began with the election of a bar owner to city hall.
On Monday, his victory was sweet.
After three years of behind-the-scenes negotiations with members of the Colorado Restaurant Association, lawmakers and special-interest groups, Hickenlooper finally got to celebrate.
"Not only will the statewide approach maximize the health benefits to employees and patrons, but it also ensures a level economic playing field for all businesses, many of whom are placed at a competitive disadvantage when smoking bans are enacted on a city-by-city basis," he said.
The new state law bans smoking in all public places except for casinos, smoke shops, cigar bars and the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport, effective July 1.
So by then it will be safe to take Mom out in public in Colorado again.
Although if I were you, I'd avoid wearing that ball cap at meals, I'd always break my bread before I buttered it and, if you insist upon putting your elbows on the table, you could end up grounded for a week.