Spokane police have a new responsibility: enforcement of smoking laws.
The Spokane City Council on Monday unanimously gave its police officers the power to write $50 tickets for violating smoking rules approved by Washington voters in 2005.
Since the law was approved, the Spokane Regional Health District has been the only agency with enforcement powers, and the district has not ticketed smokers. Instead, the health department focused on businesses that violated the law by allowing smoking inside.
City Council members said they were surprised to learn that no agency in Spokane appears to have the ability to cite smokers who violate the law, which prohibits smoking within 25 feet of building entrances, windows that open and vents.
“If we don’t have any enforcement and a building owner feels that they are being unduly affected by smokers violating the 25-foot rule, they’ve got to have some ability to address that,” Councilman Jon Snyder said.
The law requires that officers give violators a warning before issuing a ticket.
Councilman Mike Allen said he doesn’t expect police to issue many smoking tickets, but they need the ability to do so if they deal with a habitual offender.
The issue was raised by downtown businesses, who have complained that the Spokane Transit Authority’s elimination of the lone smoking area at the STA Plaza last year has forced smokers to wait for buses elsewhere.
Some downtown businesses and building owners have responded with an array of strategies to discourage loitering. Some have added security officers. At least one is piping opera music along its perimeter. Others are installing “Mosquitoes,” devices that emit a high-pitched annoying squeal audible mostly to younger people.
Snyder said he opposes the installation of Mosquitoes.
“We can’t run every smoker out of downtown,” he said. “It’s about coming up with a balanced approach.”
Smokers waiting for buses had mixed reactions to the law change.
Mike Griffith, a Spokane Valley resident, said officials have gone overboard removing places where smoking is allowed outdoors. Given the city’s high property crime rate, officers have more important business than enforcing the 25-foot smoking rule, he said.
“It’s just a little asinine,” he said.
Steven Jenkins was sharing a smoke with his fiancee on a walk near the bus plaza Monday night after a security guard informed them that they had to keep moving to smoke legally while awaiting a bus. He said he’s OK with police having the power to write tickets for the offense, but says smokers need a place where they can smoke without being hassled.
“It seems like they are taking away every single spot where we can smoke,” Jenkins said.
Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman Kim Papich said the district has focused on educating businesses about the law. But it has taken action against some businesses that violated it.
The district issued 14 fines in 2006. The most fines it issued after that was four in 2008. Since then, it has issued only one fine, in 2011.