News

Smoking ban rekindled

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

The state Court of Appeals reinstated the Tacoma-Pierce County smoking ban Wednesday, with neighboring King County’s health board eyeing the developments and planning a similar ban.

Court Commissioner Ernetta Skerlec issued an oral ruling Wednesday that reinstated the sweeping smoking ban originally enacted Jan. 2 by Pierce County’s health board. The ban was the first of its kind in the state, prohibiting smoking in public places previously exempted by the state’s 1985 Clean Indoor Air Act. Those public places include taverns, bars, non-tribal casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and restaurants.

Olympia-based Entertainment Industry Coalition appealed the ban. The appeal worked and the ban was lifted Jan. 22 after Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper ruled it conflicted with state law.

In return, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Board vowed to appeal, and its members got what they wanted Wednesday when Skerlec reinstated the ban. The commissioner planned to issue a written ruling before week’s end.

Tacoma Pierce County public health director Rick Porso said, “It’s a big win for the workers in Pierce County because they will finally be equally protected from the harms of secondhand smoke. Prior to this, only certain places were protected with the 1985 Clean Indoor Air Act.

“We would love to see a statewide ban, and that’s what we always wanted. If it takes county by county to be smoke-free, then so be it. It would be great, though, if it was just happening statewide.”

King County Health Board chairwoman Carolyn Edmonds said is encouraged by the reinstatement and is preparing to draft a similar ban here.

“I’m very excited about this,” said Edmonds, a County Council member. “I think it’s a really good sign, and where I want to be is very prepared to take action as soon as the judicial reviews in Pierce County are complete. I’m going to revisit with the (Seattle-King County Public Health Department) and our prosecuting attorney’s office and (see) how fast we can move to implement such a ban.

“I can’t speak right now as to whether it’s going to be identical or how we’re going to model. My goal is that it will be almost identical to the Pierce County ban.”

Yet, a tobacco consumer advocacy group, Forces International, said the ban violates state law.

Skerlec, the appeals court commissioner, “did not overturn or vacate (the earlier) ruling that the Pierce County smoking ban violates state law,” said Norman Kjono, a spokesman for Forces International. “Skerlec ordered a stay of enforcing Judge Culpepper’s order while the case progresses through the Washington appeals process. A stay of a previous order is not precedent.

What we confront in Pierce County is a frightening situation where a special-interest smoking ban that violates private property rights, damages small business and negatively labels persons who smoke as ‘killers’ is to be enforced, despite the fact that a Superior Court judge has ruled that the ban violates state law. The question is will other counties choose to follow that example?“

Kjono said any legal action “on behalf of Washington tobacco consumers is necessarily independent, separate and apart from those undertaken by Pierce County or the Entertainment Industry Coalition.”

Attorney Sam Watkins, who represented the coalition’s appeal of the ban in January, did not return a call Thursday to comment on the organization’s next move.

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

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