Smoking ban's foes drift away
It seems almost a given that smokers will be banned from public places in Washington before Christmas. Polls show Initiative 901, the anti-smoking...
Seattle Times staff reporter
It seems almost a given that smokers will be banned from public places in Washington before Christmas. Polls show Initiative 901, the anti-smoking measure, winning on the Nov. 8 ballot. There's little organized opposition. Even the state restaurant association is sitting this one out.
So what happened? Why has the long fight over the rights of smokers versus nonsmokers apparently flamed out?
Basically, a couple of things happened. Public sentiment shifted and smoking-ban opponents with deep pockets abandoned the fight.
"In the end I think people got convinced about secondhand smoke hurting you, it being offensive and there being no reason to put up with that," said Bryan Jones, a political-science professor at the University of Washington. "It just took a long time, and now there's consensus."
Businesses followed their customer base. Records kept by the Washington Restaurant Association show that 80 percent of its members are now completely smoke-free. That compares with 45 percent just six years ago. The group represents more than 4,500 restaurants, bars and other businesses.
The lack of a well-funded opposition campaign isn't surprising in that light. Anthony Anton, vice president of the restaurant association, says his group has concerns about the measure but noted, I-901 "is going to pass overwhelmingly. We're not the opposition and we're not going to do anything to fight the initiative."
The I-901 campaign, Healthy Indoor Air for All Washington, has raised more than $1.1 million. The American Cancer Society contributed more than $500,000 to the campaign. Other big contributors include the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which donated $100,000, and AARP, which gave $50,000.
The opposition campaign, No on 901, has raised a little more than $9,000, mostly from a scattering of local bars and restaurants. Diamond Lil's and Freddie's Club of Renton were the two biggest contributors, donating $2,000 each.
Source: State Public Disclosure Commission
Without support from the association and other groups with money, organized opposition to the initiative is mostly confined to a No on 901 campaign that has raised less than $10,000, compared with more than $1.1 million raised by I-901 supporters.
I-901 backers, including the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, have practically had an open mic to pound the message that the hazards of secondhand smoke are well-known and are associated with many illnesses, including lung cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma.
The campaign has focused in particular on the danger smoke poses to workers in restaurants and bars. "We just don't believe that risking cancer should be part of a job requirement," said Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society.
Not everyone thinks the proposed ban is such a good idea, of course. I-901 would prohibit smoking in all public places and within 25 feet of their doorways. Tribal casinos would not be affected.
Go into just about any smoky bar and you'll find people dead set against the initiative.
At the Poggie Tavern in West Seattle, signs taped to the front window shout in bold letters: "Vote no on 901. Freedom is about choices." Inside there's an ashtray in front of every customer and an inversion layer of cigarette smoke billowing overhead.
Would businesses suffer?
At the tavern, Betty Bevens, a 36-year-old full-time student, says the state has no business telling her not to smoke in bars. "We pay our sin tax so we can do what we want," she said, holding a lit cigarette. There was a rough chorus of agreement around her. "You tell 'em, Betty."
If bar employees don't like the smoke, "they shouldn't work here," she said. "They have a choice."
Stu Miller, a bartender at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill, agrees. "You know what you're getting into when you work in a bar," said Miller, who is 31 and a nonsmoker. "If I had a problem with smoke, I'd get another job."
Both Miller and his co-worker Fletch Kelley say there's more to I-901 than forcing smokers to go outside. They argue it would also hurt business at places like the Comet Tavern.
"The majority of people who come here, 99 percent, smoke," said Kelley, 38, a bartender at the Comet off and on for 15 years, and a smoker.
The Comet, he said, has a distinctive blue-collar customer base. "The average Joe comes into this bar. It's old-timers and fishermen. They come here because they're comfortable and they've been coming for years."
If I-901 passes, that group would be gone, he said. "The initiative would destroy this place."
Connie Peterson, owner of Hans's Place, a tavern in Tacoma, said her business dropped by 25 percent when Pierce County had a smoking ban in place off and on last year. The state Supreme Court eventually tossed the ban out.
Peterson said people still hung around outside her place, but they came inside less often because of the ban. "I had all these people around my bar smoking, but there was nobody in here spending money."
Supporters of the initiative cite studies suggesting that business in Washington would not suffer if the measure passes. "Economic studies have repeatedly shown that after smoking bans are implemented, business revenue in restaurants and bars remains the same or increases," according to the I-901 Web site.
In Massachusetts, which enacted a smoking ban last year, a survey of residents before and after the ban went into effect found no reduction in the number of people saying they went out to bars and restaurants, said Lois Biener, senior research fellow at the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Research done by others looked at meal taxes a year before and a year after the ban in Massachusetts and also found no impact, Biener said.
However, Peter Christie, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the research is misleading. The reality is that some businesses did suffer, while others did better.
"Don't believe the studies," he said. "The people most affected I think were the pub-style restaurants, the little neighborhood places. They definitely have seen a decrease in sales."
The nanny state
All that aside, voters shouldn't roll over and allow their rights to be taken away, even if they believe smoking is harmful, said Jacob Sullum, author of the book "For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health."
He sees smoking bans as another step toward a nanny state, where government increasingly takes away choices to protect its citizens. Forcing people to wear seat belts, requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets and, now, imposing bans on smoking are all part of the same trend, he said.
"One of my big reservations is nobody can tell you where the end is," said Sullum, senior editor at Reason, a Libertarian magazine.
Once smoking bans are put in place it won't be long until crusaders focus on something else they consider harmful, Sullum contends, noting he recently ran across a proposal to ban junk-food restaurants near schools. "The rational is that we don't want kids to go to these places and eat junk food and get fat; therefore, we're going to ban them within walking distance. But then you're affecting all the adults who work and shop in that neighborhood," he said.
For anyone who thinks that's farfetched, Sullum reminds us that smoking bans used to be considered extreme. "Initially the plea was, 'Let nonsmokers have a place. There should at least be some places where people can't smoke.' Now it's 'Can't smokers have a place? In this whole city there isn't one place where you can have a drink and a cigarette?' "
Pretty soon the answer will likely be no in Washington, and maybe in many other states as well. So far, 14 states have at least a partial statewide smoking ban in place, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a smoking-ban advocacy group.
The tide has turned, said Sander Gilman, co-editor of the book "Smoke: A Global History of Smoking."
"There's no lobby. The alcohol people don't care anymore. The restaurant people think they'll make more money selling organic asparagus than they'll lose from people not going to restaurants [because of a ban]," he said. "There is, at this point, no vocal opposition."
Even some smokers, like Tom Morris of Seattle, say they're willing to vote for I-901 even though it would restrict where they can smoke.
"Hopefully, it will help me quit smoking and save me some money," said Morris, a television cameraman who has smoked for 30 years. "It's $210 a month for what? You're killing yourself."
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.