The Spokane City Council on Monday gave a green light to a plan that uses traffic-signal colors to alert prospective diners to a restaurant’s smoking status.
Council members voted 4-2 to adopt the law that requires restaurant owners to use a warning system to let patrons know if people are lighting up inside.
A green sign posted on a door will mean the restaurant is smoke-free. A yellow sign will mean smoking is allowed in some areas. A red sign will mean smoking is allowed everywhere.
Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes, who approved the ordinance, compared it to “educational” laws adopted 30 years ago that outlawed littering and “changed an entire society.”
Councilwoman Roberta Greene and Councilman Jeff Colliton voted against the plan, saying the marketplace - not government - should determine smoking conditions inside restaurants.
“If I’m in a restaurant that’s too smoky, I turn around and leave,” Greene said.
The ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, is the first of its kind in Washington state.
It was drafted for the Spokane County Health Board by a panel of community and restaurant representatives. The board is asking the county and its 16 cities and towns to adopt it.
The red-light, green-light proposal is a watered-down version of last year’s push to ban smoking in restaurants.
Thousands of people in Washington die each year from smoking-related illnesses, said Linda Jackson, health educator for the Spokane County Health District.
The committee reasoned that since the health district can’t legally ban smoking outright, at least restaurant owners can help patrons make informed choices, Jackson said.
“They can know without getting out of the car exactly what kind of restaurant they’ve chosen,” said former Councilwoman Bev Numbers, who chaired the committee.
Using traffic-signal colors makes the program easy to teach children, Jackson said.
The committee dropped earlier plans that called for the green signs to say “welcome” and the red signs to say “warning.” While the committee hasn’t chosen a design, it favors diamond-shaped signs that say “smoking status” along the edge.
Dropping the “negative” wording helped convince a majority of restaurant owners to support the plan, said Stuart Ellison of the Spokane Restaurant Association.
“As long as the signs are non-biased and information-based … the industry is positive about the signs,” said Ellison, manager of The Broadway Truck Stop.
But Greene wasn’t convinced the colorful signs didn’t bias consumers, particularly children. She asked Sharlynn Rima, coordinator of the Health District’s Youth Tobacco Prevention program, if Rima would teach children to tell their parents to “stop” at red signs.
Rima told Greene she would tell children what the signs meant without using negative words. “Colors they already identify with makes the process easier,” Rima said.
Colliton, former owner of the Park Inn Tavern, called the plan an example of government over-regulation.
“This is not something I think we should be involved in,” he said, adding that he also worried about enforcing the law.
Acting City Manager Bill Pupo said he planned to talk with the Health District about possible enforcement options, such as training health inspectors to cite restaurants that don’t post signs, or letting patrons smoke in non-smoking areas.
Also Monday, the council named the downtown Central Steam Plant to the Spokane Register of Historic Places.
Developer Ron Wells began restoring the plant for commercial use in May. Eventually, the plant that fed steam heat to downtown businesses from 1916 to the mid-1980s could be home to restaurants and retail shops.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SAME ISSUE, DIFFERENT BODY Spokane County commissioners plan to discuss the proposed red-light, green-light smoking ordinance tonight. Their meeting starts at 5 p.m.in the hearing room of the Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway.