Washington State Poised to OK Strict Smoking Ban

Polls indicate Washington voters will approve a ballot measure banning smoking in all public places, even outside. The measure would ban smoking anywhere within 25 feet of the entrance or windows of a public building.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Next week voters in Washington state will decide whether to ban smoking, not just in public places but also on the sidewalk. If the initiative passes, it will be illegal to light up within 25 feet of a public building's doors and windows. NPR's Martin Kaste has the story from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

Washington state already bans smoking in all public establishments with the exception of bars, restaurants, casinos, bowling allies and, oddly enough, skating rinks. Now Marina Cofer-Wildsmith, head of the local chapter of the American Lung Association, says it's time to eliminate secondhand smoke in all workplaces.

Ms. MARINA COFER-WILDSMITH (American Lung Association): Because there should be no distinction between a worker in a restaurant and a worker in an office building.

KASTE: Polls indicate broad support for the measure, and until very recently passage seemed assured. The organized opposition has little money, and leader David Wilkinson(ph) relies on AM talk radio to get his message out. He's a big guy in a black leather jacket who works a surveillance job in a suburban casino, just the kind of business worried about losing its smoking clientele. After one of his radio appearances, Wilkinson exits the station and points out a row of businesses on the street: bars, restaurants and coffee shops. He says the proposed law doesn't leave a lot of room for smokers.

Mr. DAVID WILKINSON (Activist): Theoretically, to get 25 feet away from each side of the street, you literally have to stand in the center of the street to follow the letter of the law.

KASTE: The perception that the initiative bans smoking outdoors has generated misgivings among people who'd otherwise support it. At least one newspaper columnist has written that he backed the ban until he heard about the 25-foot perimeter. Wilkinson says his one hope is the possibility that the people who drafted the initiative may have overreached.

Mr. WILKINSON: The 25-foot rule is kind of the thing that's probably, if anything else, is going to kill 901.

(Soundbite of coffee cart operation)

Mr. MIKE KUBIC: There you go.

KASTE: Mike Kubic runs a sidewalk coffee cart outside a restaurant. He says when his customers' smoke bothers him, he just asks them to stand downwind. Kubic likens the proposed ban to another recent effort to promote clean living in the Northwest, a new city ordinance establishing a four-foot gap between customers and dancers in Seattle strip clubs.

Mr. KUBIC: It's ridiculous. You know, I don't know. I think they're trying to turn it into some utopian society out there or something and get people the sense that they don't have to encounter all these kind of supposedly ugly things in life or whatever. You know, they can exist outside the realm of human behavior. I think it's kind of bizarre.

KASTE: In recent weeks the ban's supporters have downplayed the possibility of anyone actually getting a ticket for lighting up outside a bar on a Friday night. They say local health officials will be reasonable in enforcing the rule. Some communities already bar smokers from clustering around doorways and letting their smoke drift into buildings. But if Initiative 901 passes, Washington will be the first state to officially extend the no smoking section out into the street. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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