Arrow-right Camera


County Bans Tobacco Promotions Chewing Tobacco Giveaways At Sports Show Prompt Action

Sportsmen who attend the Big Horn Sports and Recreation Show next year won’t leave with free tobacco dribbling down their chins.

Two county commissioners said Tuesday they will ban tobacco promotions at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds and other county facilities.

“I don’t know that we can ban usage, but I think we can ban advertising, and that includes free handouts,” said Commissioner Skip Chilberg.

Commissioner Phil Harris agreed. Commissioner Steve Hasson did not attend the meeting but said in a letter he sees no need to change regulations as long as tobacco isn’t being given to minors.

Fairgrounds director Paul Gillingham said he had anticipated the ban and already has notified some tobacco companies.

The ban means Skoal-Copenhagen no longer can sponsor the rodeo held during the Spokane Interstate Fair. The company has given $750 in recent years in exchange for the right to hand out samples and advertise at the rodeo. Tobacco companies also won’t be allowed to have booths at shows.

Although figures aren’t available for last month’s show, the Big Horn show was the largest distributor of free tobacco in the state in 1994, according to the state Liquor Control Board.

Promoters gave away 7,690 cans of Skoal and 20,620 cans of Kodiak chewing tobacco during the four-day show. Costing about $4 a can in most stores, that’s $113,000 worth of chew.

“This (ban) is a very excellent thing to have happen in Spokane,” said Dian Kiser, field director of the tobacco-control program called Washington Assist. “We should be especially happy for the youth of Spokane.”

Kiser said she watched at the Big Horn show last month as two adult volunteers from her group made one trip each to the two tobacco booths. One of them made an extra trip to the Skoal booth.

Between them, the volunteers collected 15 cans and two packages of chewing tobacco - more than $60 worth of tobacco. At a half-can a day, that’s enough to keep a new user drooling and spitting for more than a month.

Minor volunteers were turned away by the promoters, as required by law.

Bill VanHorn of Tobacco Free Washington contends companies give away large quantities of tobacco to hook new users.

“You think of sampling as a little bit of a taste,” he said. “But, of course, it’s addictive, and they hope it will be given to new users.”

Health officials say smokeless tobacco is the leading cause of mouth, lip, jaw and throat cancers.

Studies show tobacco delivers a more potent dose of nicotine to the blood if it is chewed rather than smoked. So, it may be more addictive than cigarettes.

Industry officials deny that tobacco is addictive.

Gary Thorn, Spokane field representative for U.S. Tobacco Co., maker of Skoal, referred calls to his company’s East Coast office. The office was closed for the evening when a reporter called Tuesday.

Francine Boxer, assistant county administrative officer, said Thorn called her office after hearing about the possible ban several days ago and “appeared very upset.”

“He stated that if it appeared Spokane County was considering banning tobacco advertising on county property, he would like his legal department to be involved,” Boxer wrote in a memo to commissioners.

It is unusual, although not unheard of, for local governments to restrict tobacco promotions, said VanHorn.

King and Clark counties allow tobacco advertisements, but not giveaways, in their buildings, VanHorn said. Salt Lake City and Oakland, Calif., are among the cities that have banned any tobacco promotions in government buildings, he said.

“They (the tobacco industry) may say that they’re going to fight this in court because the First Amendment does have protection of advertising of legal products,” VanHorn said. But the industry hasn’t challenged the King County law, he said, and challenges of laws in other states have been unsuccessful.