The latest volley against smoking doesn’t come from the courts or the White House.
It comes from a Spokane County commissioner.
John Roskelley wants the county to consider banning smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco by minors. Under state law, only “obtaining” tobacco is illegal, not using it.
Modeled after laws in Kennewick and Everett, the proposal would allow sheriff’s deputies to ticket young users - as well as their parents.
The plan, which will be the subject of a Sept. 24 public hearing, would apply only in unincorporated areas such as the Spokane Valley and North Side suburbs. The city of Spokane is not considering a ban, said City Manager Bill Pupo.
The idea isn’t to bust every kid with a cigarette hanging off his lip, said Roskelley. Instead, he wants to give deputies a way to break up crowds of teenagers who gather to smoke near schools.
Roskelley said people who live near schools often call him to complain about off-campus smokers and the messes they leave behind.
The problem has gotten worse since 1991 when the Legislature prohibited most schools from providing smoking areas. Except at alternative schools, students were forced into streets and onto sidewalks, where they have a legal right to congregate and smoke.
The current state law that only prohibits minors from obtaining tobacco products strikes one advocate of the county proposal as absurd.
“It’s like saying if you’re under 21, you can’t buy alcohol, but it’s OK for you to drink it in public,” said the woman, who watches students smoke from her home near East Valley High School.
The woman said the kids aren’t necessarily bad. But they block sidewalks and streets, use profane language and leave behind cigarette butts and other litter.
She didn’t want her name used because her house was pelted with eggs the last time she spoke out about the problem.
Sheriff John Goldman said the law could work.
“What we’re really talking about is the concept of nuisance abatement,” he said. “That’s really important in community policing programs.”
Kennewick adopted its law in 1991, said City Attorney Bill Cameron. He didn’t know how many minors have been cited, “but I do know that kids occasionally get tickets.”
A provision allowing police to fine parents $50 was included in case an officer citing a child for smoking ran across a parent who provided the cigarettes.
“You could say, ‘Well, here’s a ticket for you, too,”’ Cameron said. “As far as I know, that hasn’t happened. Most parents don’t encourage their kids to smoke.”
John Banzhaf, executive director of the national anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health, said “dozens” of communities have passed juvenile smoking bans.
Groups of teen smokers are more than just a nuisance, he said. They’re negative role models.
“When … younger kids see older kids smoking in malls, smoking on sidewalks, it creates the image that this is something that’s cool,” he said.
Nichole Shore, a pack-a-day smoker at East Valley’s alternative high school, said no-smoking laws don’t work.
“Peer pressure’s so bad, they’ll do it anyway,” said Shore, 17, who learned the habit four years ago from her older sister. “They’re going to smoke them out of their house. Or they’ll throw them out when they see a cop.”
Mike Dunn, co-principal at Mead High School, said he worries a smoking ban would cause some students to drop out of school.
“Would I like it if everybody under 18 didn’t smoke? I sure would. I’d like it if nobody smoked,” Dunn said. “I’m not sure you can legislate that.”
The same day as the hearing on the juvenile smoking ban, commissioners will hear comments about another proposal, requiring restaurants to post their doors with green, yellow or red signs to indicate their smoking policies. The idea comes from the Spokane Regional Health District, which last year considered a smoking ban in all restaurants.
The county proposal comes as tobacco companies are fighting national restrictions.
President Clinton wants to ban most vending machine sales, sharply limit advertising and impose other restrictions.
A Florida jury recently ordered Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. to pay $750,000 to a man who got lung cancer after smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes for 44 years. A similar decision in 1988 was overturned on appeal.
Meanwhile, industry profits continue to grow as cigarette makers find new markets overseas.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo