News

Pierce's smoking ban may light one in King County

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

The King County Board of Health is closely watching how the litigation will unfold in court since the Pierce County smoking ban enacted this month roused restaurant owners to take legal action against that county’s health board.

If the Washington Restaurant Association’s lawsuit is overturned, King County may enact a similar, sweeping smoking ban.

The restaurant association’s chief executive officer, Gene Vosberg, asserts on the group’s Web site that the ban in Pierce County preempts state law and overrides the exceptions made in the state’s 1985 Clean Indoor Air Act — a resolution which allowed smoking in bowling alleys, bars, taverns, tobacco shops, restaurants and minicasinos, among others, but banned smoking in all other public venues.

Vosberg argues that state law “clearly preempts” any board of health “from enacting this resolution. State law authorizes businesses such as ours the right to establish designated smoking areas.”

Meanwhile, the King County board’s chairwoman, County Councilwoman Carolyn Edmonds, said that while she has considered a smoking ban in King County, the prosecuting attorney’s office “advised me that we are precluded from doing that by state law.”

For now, she’s just waiting and watching.

“I would love to have a similar action take place in King County. However, we’re going to just sit back and watch the court challenge that Pierce County is facing,” she said. “I would like Pierce County to prevail and have their ban upheld.”

But “the only way to have a ban on (all) public places would be to change state law,” added Edmonds.

Such a change would have to meet state legislators’ approval — unlikely in the case of Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, a vocal anti-smoking proponent who believes that the only way to ban smoking in all public venues would be to change the state law.

If the state is going to go smokeless, for now the only viable way apparently is on a county-by-county basis, with each county enacting bans similar to those of Pierce County’s and surviving the ensuing lawsuits.

Pro-smoking rights advocates are riled by the Pierce County ban.

Forces International is a tobacco and smoking consumer advocacy group that supports smokers’ rights. Redmond-based spokesman Norm Kjono said similar sweeping bans will probably result from the Pierce County action.

Now that state Attorney General Christine Gregoire “has made it clear in a letter” to Pierce County health officials “that she will not enforce Washington’s preemption statute regarding smoking bans, it is a virtual certainty that the Pierce County smoking ban will spread to King and Snohomish counties in the immediate future,” Kjono said.

“Any action where our state’s attorney general winks at willful violations of state preemption laws and business-specific exemptions threatens all citizens alike, whether they smoke or not,” he added.

Forces International is “more in the nature of a consumer-advocacy group than a litigation support group,” and so isn’t planning to file a lawsuit against the Pierce County health board, Kjono explained.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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