Business owners declare war on smoking ban
P. VOGEL; The News Tribune
Pierce County, WA - As many as 40 bar and restaurant owners plan
to willfully disobey the Pierce County smoking ban set to go into
effect Friday and are raising money to sue to overturn it.
The owners have met twice in the last eight days at Barb's Westgate
Inn in Tacoma's West End to discuss ways to fight the ban. It would
prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, minicasinos,
hotels and most other nontribal businesses in Pierce County.
They had been relying on the Washington Restaurant Association to
lead the charge. But that group has backed away from the threat of
legal action it made early this month after the Tacoma-Pierce County
Board of Health passed the ban, which would be the first of its kind
in the state.
"We're not going to wait for the restaurant association,"
said Harry Johnson, owner of Pegasus Restaurant on Puyallup Avenue
in Tacoma. He has a jar on his bar soliciting contributions from patrons,
which he plans to add to the $25,000 he says owners have already pledged
to overturn the ban.
In the meantime, many plan to let their customers keep right on puffing
Friday, even though that could bring fines on smokers and businesses.
Violators also could lose various licenses needed to stay open for
"We're not going to lay down for this," said Steve Fabre,
who owns Cassidy's Pub in Midland and Point Defiance Café and
Casino in Ruston. He said that when roughly 40 bar and restaurant
owners met last week "everyone at that meeting, to a man or woman,
said they are still going to allow smoking."
In addition to Fabre and Johnson, the owners of the Silver Dollar
Tavern Pub in Spanaway and Barb's Westgate Inn, 2121 Tavern and All
Seasons Tavern in Tacoma confirmed this week they will ignore the
Nearly 730 businesses in Pierce County licensed to serve food or alcohol
on the premises are already voluntarily smoke-free. All of the owners
of smoking establishments questioned for this story said they allow
smoking because a majority of their customers and employees smoke.
"It's a free market," said Johnson. "And if 85 percent
of my customers didn't smoke, I wouldn't allow smoking."
The owners questioned for this story all said they feared that if
they were forced to ban smoking, they would lose customers to businesses
not covered by the ban, like the casinos run by the Puyallup tribe
or businesses in other counties.
"I've got Indian establishments right here next to me that will
put me out of business if I have to go nonsmoking," said Johnson.
But supporters of smoking bans dispute that prediction. There hasn't
been a drop in business in most places that have gone smoke-free,
said Annie Tegen, an official with Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights,
which has tracked smoke-free ordinances in more than 1,600 localities
and six states around the country.
But in most of those jurisdictions, Tegen said there hasn't been "a
group effort to disobey the law" like the one Pierce County owners
"We really hope that that's not what people's intentions are,"
said Rick Porso, public health manager for the Tacoma-Pierce County
Health Department. "We hope that that's just people talking right
Porso added, however, that "if people wish to defy it and break
the law, we'll go through the process." For restaurant owners
or operators, that would mean a warning on the first citation, followed
by fines of $100 for each additional. The department also could suspend
or revoke various department-issued business licenses.
The department's goal, Porso said, is to reach out to businesses -
through brochures and inspectors' visits - to educate them on how
to comply with the ban. They haven't done a good job of that yet,
said Tom Cicchinelli, co-owner of the All Seasons Tavern.
"They haven't given us enough time. It was like wham bam,"
Cicchinelli said. He and the other owners asserted that the ban violates
a state law that allows businesses to establish smoking sections,
a position backed by lawyers in the state Attorney General's Office.
Though Cicchinelli said he believes "it's only a matter of time"
before the state Legislature approves a statewide smoking ban, he
said, "I don't see how the health department can pass a law like
Kenneth P. Vogel: 360-754-6093