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Anti-smokers not giving up

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Although a Pierce County Superior Court judge last Thursday overturned that county’s sweeping smoking ban enacted by the county’s health board, the board vows to appeal while legislators continue to meet and discuss the future of two similar statewide bans.

The Senate Health and Longterm Care Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss the future of Senate Bill 7591, which proposes to ban smoking in all public places, including the ones currently excluded by the 1985 Washington Clean Indoor Air Act.

That act bans smoking in all public places, excluding taverns, bars, non-tribal casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and restaurants.

Washington Breathe, an alliance of health organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association of Washington, supports the bill.

The alliance is disappointed by Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper’s repeal of Pierce County’s smoking ban, but not deterred.

“I was at the court hearing,” said Kevin Knox, Washington Breathe project director. “And I think the general reaction from Washington Breathe is that it’s quite disappointing that the ordinance was repealed.”

He said the alliance wants local jurisdictions to have the authority to enact and retain future sweeping smoking bans. The organization’s representatives are meeting with legislators to discuss this possibility, he said.

“Our main goal in this is educating lawmakers about the need for this policy change and supporting Senate bill 5791 and House Bill 1868. As a member of the public I would believe that the public health department and any board of health should have authority over such bans.”

And although Knox said he doesn’t believe smoking should be outlawed, he did say protecting the health and rights of nonsmokers from secondhand smoke is of paramount concern.

Meanwhile, smokers’ rights advocacy consumer group Forces International is delighting in last week’s repeal while doubting the lifeline of the Senate house bill discussed last week.

Forces spokesman Norman Kjono said the judge “not only affirmed Washington preemption statutes and statutory exemptions from smoking bans for specific businesses but he also upheld the rights of property owners to permit lawful activities on their business premises.”

And although the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health vowed to appeal, Kjono said Forces International does not expect the appeals court to overturn last week’s ruling.

He also maintains that many of the special interests groups, senators and representatives who support Senate Bill 5791 hold a “hidden agenda” — one that presents a conflict of interest due to lack of full disclosure.

“We find that the legislators who sponsor such bills are connected in one fashion or the other to supporting use of pharmaceutical nicotine products,” Kjono said.

Kjono maintained that the legislators and special-interests groups who push for a statewide sweeping smoking ban omit information about their own involvement in pushing a heavy-handed anti-smoking campaign, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

If legislators spoke openly about their involvement and respected the public’s right to know, he said, he wouldn’t be as angry.

“A vote to change current state law...is a vote that says Washington consumers and the will of the people count far less to our legislators than the will of special interests and out-of-state private foundations,” Kjono said.

“It is time to ask how much of the people’s legislative time and money will be consumed in persistent attempts to accommodate an agenda that essentially mandates tobacco consumers be coerced to use pharmaceutical nicotine replacement products.”

Locally, two of the three Federal Way representatives support the effort to ban smoking in all public places.

Federal Way representative Mark Miloscia — who is not a member of the Senate Health and Longterm Care Committee which held the hearing last week — supports the proposed bill.

“I am supportive of the house bill. I think this is a good thing in our society,” Miloscia said. He argued that diners have the right to enjoy their meal smoke-free, just as office workers currently have the right to work without being subjected to nicotine fumes. Second-hand health hazards exist everywhere, no matter the location, he said.

And Senator Tracey Eide of Federal Way also supports efforts to ban smoking in all indoor public places.

“Secondhand smoke is a clear public health hazard,” Eide said. “I have family members who smoke and they learned long ago to go outside out of concern for others. Washington’s citizens deserve to spend their leisure time at a restaurant or bowling alley, or make their living tending bar or waiting tables, without having their health seriously endangered.”

Eide said she would pass Senate Bill 5791 if given the opportunity. She is not a member of the Senate Health and Longterm Care Committee.

But representative Skip Priest remained noncommittal, saying only that he needs to hear both sides of the issue before taking a stance.

“I take with great seriousness the idea that we’re a body of listeners that listens to people’s views,” Priest said. “Once I have the pros and cons on an issue, I try to make a thoughtful decision.”

On the Internet:

www.wabreathe.org/breathe.aspx

www.rwjf.org

www.forces.org

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