They'd rather fight than quit: Some smokers defy new ban
P. VOGEL; The News Tribune
Pierce County, WA - The historic Pierce County indoor smoking ban
took effect Friday, but you wouldn't have known it by surveying the
lunch crowd at Barb's Westgate Inn.
A haze of cigarette smoke hung over the 20 or so patrons in the bar
as Roger Carman, a 70-year old regular who lives near the establishment
in Tacoma's West End, took a drag off his Camel.
"Give me a ticket. I could care less," said Carman, a retired
pipe fitter and 50-year smoker, prompting nods of agreement from most
For a few days at least, Carman and other patrons or owners of the
handful of Pierce County bars and restaurants that have said they'll
defy the ban don't need to worry about being sanctioned.
That's because the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which is
charged with enforcing the ban, plans to wait until Monday, when its
inspectors return from vacations, before cracking down on smoking.
Another regular at Barb's is suing to overturn the ban. And a group
of more than 40 bar, restaurant and minicasino owners is set to meet
Monday evening at Barb's to decide whether to file a separate lawsuit.
Opponents say the ban violates a state law that allows bars, restaurants
and other businesses to establish smoking areas.
In the meantime, the owners of at least seven other bars told The
News Tribune that they plan to allow their patrons to continue to
Still, supporters proclaimed Friday a victory for the local health
department and for public health and anti-tobacco advocates across
the state and country.
But the ultimate winners, said Rick Porso, public health director
for the department, are Pierce County's 19,000 restaurant and bar
Most scientists agree that secondhand tobacco smoke poses a health
risk, though a small but vocal group disagrees.
Annie Tegen of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights said the implications
of the Pierce County ban, which is the first of its kind in the state,
are also "incredibly significant." Tegen, whose group has
tracked smoke-free ordinances in more than 1,600 localities and six
states around the country, predicted the ban will spur efforts to
pass smoke-free laws in municipalities around the state.
King County has already said it will follow suit if the Pierce County
ban holds, and a coalition is laying the groundwork for a concerted
push this year in the Legislature for a statewide ban.
Locally, the ban means that smokers could get $100 fines if they're
caught lighting up in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, minicasinos,
hotels and most other nontribal businesses. The penalties are more
dire for the owners of those businesses. After a warning, they can
get a $100 fine, then the health department can suspend or revoke
licenses necessary to stay in business.
"We'll just go until somebody comes and tells us we need to put
these (ashtrays) away," said Barb's owner Jarry Zaspel, who has
become something of a leader among bar and restaurant owners opposed
to the ban. "I'll take that as a warning, but I don't think we'll
take a citation.
"I'm not trying to argue for smoking, but they should be more
careful with our rights," he added.
Nearly 730 of the county's 1,100 establishments licensed to serve
food and alcohol on the premises had already voluntarily gone smoke-free
before the Tacoma Pierce County Board of Health passed the ban last
And some bars and restaurants that had allowed smoking complied with
the ban on Friday.
"We thought long and hard about it and we have decided to respect
the ban, even if we don't agree with it," said Troy Christian,
managing partner at El Gaucho.
The pricey downtown Tacoma steakhouse contains what health department
officials said was the county's only cigar lounge. Christian said
it will not allow cigar smoking until at least Monday's meeting at
Christian said El Gaucho plans to contribute to a legal defense fund
that Harry Johnson, owner of Pegasus restaurant on Puyallup Avenue
in Tacoma, said is already at $25,000.
The owners, who were disappointed when the Washington Restaurant Association
backed away from a November pledge to sue to block the ban, will be
joined by a new ally Monday.
Linda Matson, director of the Entertainment Industry Coalition, a
statewide group of restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, nontribal minicasinos
and other businesses, said her group will throw its weight behind
the bar and restaurant owners.
"It's a matter of looking for the willing warrior," Matson
said Friday, adding that the restaurant association has chosen to
focus its energies on blocking a comprehensive statewide smoking ban.
Matson said state or local bans will give an unfair advantage to the
state's Indian casinos since they wouldn't be subject to the bans.
Maureen Bendixen, who smoked a cigarette after she and her husband
had a late breakfast at Barb's, said the ban reminded her of "Big
Brother-type stuff." But she said they'd be back even if Barb's
"They have very good food," she said.
Kenneth P. Vogel: 360-754-6093
On the Net