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State Pursues More-Democratic Course Toward Ban

MONDAY, DEC. 23, 1996

Judging from the early flak some Washington state smokers are blowing Gov. Mike Lowry’s way over his smoking ban proposal, I couldn’t help but think about the war ahead for all states that are finally waging a battle against smoking in public places.

I also couldn’t help but think about what must be one of the world’s biggest ironies in Beijing, China, where a similar smoking ban went into effect last May - and encountered resistance from Chinese smokers.

While Beijing is the only Chinese city to embrace any form of smoking constraints to this point, what happens there, according to Chinese observers, usually sets the stage for similar government mandates in other Chinese cities.

China is said to have written the book on cigarette and tobacco consumption. It’s believed one out of every three cigarettes smoked in the world is smoked in China.

No question, Washington state residents are doing their share of puffing, too. But Washington smokers almost pale in comparison to the 9.6 million Beijing residents and, indeed, to the 1.1 billion Chinese, many of whom puff strenuously on home-grown tobacco, as well as illicit black market stuff that is said to strip the Chinese government of lost tax revenue to the tune of $1 billion a year.

Underground tobacco sales aside, I wonder what might happen if a smoking ban took effect in Washington - and ended up going up in smoke like what transpired in Beijing.

As a member of a delegation of U.S. journalists who visited China a couple of months ago, I found it difficult to believe that many Beijing smokers chose to openly ignore their government-imposed anti-smoking ordinance as it relates to public places.

But, clearly, they did. In hotel after hotel, elevator after elevator and from one restaurant to another, Chinese smokers were lighting up in droves, as if in open defiance of their government.

True, some smokers opted to satisfy their nicotine habit by lighting up outdoors in proximity to some of these venues and public accommodations. But most Beijing smokers in the hotels, elevators and restaurants we visited showed no concern about an anti-smoking violation, even though their usually intolerant government had just passed its smoking ban law a few months earlier.

This is not to suggest that any smoking ban measure adopted in Washington state will meet with the same resistance as in Beijing. Quite the opposite.

It’s just that smoking forces around the United States and in Washington state finally have decided to go on the offensive, openly fighting back against escalating government smoking controls, taking the lead as anti-smoking groups did - effectively - in this country in the early ‘80s and later.

While Washington smokers, if they had their druthers, would prefer almost anything to any sort of smoking ban legislation, they are pretty much relegated to just battling the proposal when - and if - it gets to the ‘97 Legislature.

Coming from a state (South Carolina) that tends to be a bit more conservative on almost every front, I have to admit that even as a nonsmoker, Washington state government deserves a lot of credit for at least allowing some voter input before any smoking ban becomes law.

Unlike Gov. Lowry’s much-ballyhooed anti-smoking proposal, many other states and municipalities - including my own - have unilaterally and summarily enacted smoking ban measures with little or no room for subsequent voter input, once the legislation moves from the public hearings stage to implementation.

Washington state’s approach, which calls for both legislative acquiescence and a public referendum, is refreshing.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Fred Davis Washington State University

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