December 5, 1995 in Nation/World

Restaurant Owners Fight Smoking Ban Spokane County Health Officer Appears To Have Second Thoughts

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane County restaurant owners are rallying to fight a proposal to outlaw smoking in their businesses.

The battle is over private property rights and smokers’ rights, say critics of the ban sought by the Spokane County Health District.

“You can count on the restaurant industry going to court if necessary,” said Cyrus Vaughn, who owns Cyrus O’Leary’s, 516 W. Main.

“I don’t smoke, but to force them out in the street seems unreasonable.”

If adopted, the ban to protect people from second-hand smoke would be the strictest nonsmoking law in the state.

“We’re going to really fight it,” said Carl Naccarato, general manager at the Ridpath Hotel. “We feel it’ll really have a major impact economically on the convention trade we have.”

The Spokane Restaurant and Hospitality Association has invited all the county’s restaurant owners to join its 210 members at a meeting Wednesday to plan a counterattack.

The county’s top health official, meanwhile, is having second thoughts about snuffing out smoking in restaurants.

“There’s some question as to whether I can realistically do that,” health officer John Beare said Monday.

“One of my big problems is why are we singling out restaurants, as opposed to smoking in your home, your car,” he said. “I’m having difficulty saying the emergency is of such a nature that we need to ban it altogether in restaurants.”

Beare has no power to implement a ban unless he deems smoking in restaurants a medical emergency - a classification usually reserved for epidemics, says Richard Sayre, health district attorney.

Beare is expected to announce his decision Dec. 21.

Panicked restaurant owners scoff at the notion of cigarette smoke constituting a health emergency.

“Should we ban hamburgers at some point and require fat-free restaurants?” quipped Donna Tikker, director of the restaurant and hospitality association.

Tikker said she isn’t sure what action the association will take. Judging from angry telephone calls she’s received, she’s sure most oppose a smoking ban.

Stuart Ellison, who runs Saks Restaurant in the Broadway Flying J on Interstate 90, complained truckers who stop in for chicken-fried steak will go elsewhere if they can’t smoke.

“The truck drivers are real heavy smokers,” he said. “If they couldn’t smoke here, they’d just go to Idaho where they can.”

Restaurants with bars attached would have an especially tough time, said Tom Finnerty. A brass handrail separates his drinking and dining areas at the Red Lion Sports Bar & Barbeque, 126 N. Division.

“Places like these would go the way of the dinosaur,” said Finnerty.

More than 60 percent of Spokane County restaurants already prohibit smoking.

While no-smoking restaurants are growing in popularity, no Washington county has entirely prohibited smoking in restaurants. King and Pierce county officials considered such bans but never implemented them. Puyallup City Council members approved a ban last year but backed off when restaurant owners threatened to sue.

Steve Hasson, a Spokane County commissioner and health board member, contends smoking in restaurants is a real medical emergency.

“We think it’ll save lives,” he said. “If we can save just one life by banning smoking in restaurants, then that certainly meets the litmus for health emergency.”

Hasson led the move to declare AIDS a Spokane County health emergency in 1990. That cleared the way for the county’s needle exchange program, which distributes clean syringes to drug addicts.

Opponents challenged the decision, but it was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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