A group of unlikely political activists wants to bring smoking back to some Washington businesses and clubs, more than two years after voters here overwhelmingly approved the nation's most-stringent statewide smoking ban.
A handful of tobacco-dependant and tobacco-friendly businesses recently began gathering signatures for a statewide initiative proposal that would allow smoking in private clubs, cigar bars and cigars shops. To make the November ballot, they need to collect about 225,000 signatures by the end of June.
"The original initiative went too far," said the sponsor of the latest measure, Joe Arundel, an owner of Rain City Cigar in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood. "In other states, when they passed this type of legislation, they usually make exceptions for a few places."
"If this (exception) had been written into the original initiative ... it would have passed by literally the same margin," Arundel said. Voters "didn't want to be unintentionally exposed to secondhand smoke. And the initiative we've crafted here would not do that."
But some worry that it's the latest measure, Initiative 1016, that goes too far.
"It could really create a giant loophole in the law," said Carrie Nyssen, advocacy director for the American Lung Association of Washington. "The authors may have thought it was going to be narrow. But we're really afraid that the private club exemption could create some unintended consequences (that) bars could take advantage of."
Further, the exemptions would put employees of those establishments back at risk of breathing dangerous fumes, Nyssen said. "Our position is all workers deserve protection from secondhand smoke," she said.
Backers of the barely funded campaign behind Initiative 1016 acknowledged that qualifying for the ballot would be an uphill battle. Rarely do campaigns collect enough signatures to make the statewide ballot unless they can afford to hire signature gatherers -- and this one cannot.
"This is as grass roots as you get," Arundel said.
According to the initiative, in order to qualify as a cigar bar, the business' food sales must be incidental and it needs to generate at least $25,000 in annual sales of cuban cigars. Backers have distributed petitions in smoke shops, clubs and former cigar bars such as Tini Bigs.
In 2005 state voters approved Initiative 901, which prohibits smoking in indoor public facilities and workplaces with no exceptions -- not even cigar lounges or private clubs. The measure also prohibits lighting up within 25 feet of doors, windows and vents of public places.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer