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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Commission opts for smoking areas away from doors

Sara Saunders enjoys a cigarette outside at a legal distance from the entrance of the Public Safety Building and the County Courthouse. (Colin Mulvany)
Sara Saunders enjoys a cigarette outside at a legal distance from the entrance of the Public Safety Building and the County Courthouse. (Colin Mulvany)

The Spokane County government campus is littered with violations of Washington’s smoking-in-public-places law, literally.

Cigarette butts are strewn across sidewalks and courtyards.

“They are on the ground everywhere you go,” said Krista Panerio, a public health educator for the Spokane Regional Health District.

Smokers frequently light up near doorways, sometimes within the no-smoking zone of 25 feet from building entrances.

In other places, the smoke is pulled into buildings through doors and ventilation intakes.

Ash trays are filled with so many butts that the campus is known as a free source of leftover tobacco, which is often collected, re-rolled and sold on the street.

“This is like the place to come (for free second-hand tobacco),” Panerio said.

Panerio appeared on Tuesday in front of the County Commissioners and urged them to get the situation under control.

Commissioners said they will move ahead with a proposal to create designated smoking areas away from main entrances, but backed off of a more restrictive proposal to create a smoke-free campus.

Panerio told the commissioners that she has observed at least four major violations that could result in fines of thousands of dollars under the 6-year-old law.

In one instance, she and another worker checked youths outside the Juvenile Court building and found that 17-year-olds were smoking illegally.

In another instance, they checked a county maintenance garage and found two employees inside working on a vehicle and puffing on cigars.

Panerio said that 19 percent of employees who work at the county campus are smokers, which is close to the national average, but that many employee smokers have said they would like to quit.

In arguing for stronger nonsmoking measures, Panerio said the county should be a better example to the community on the issue and should also make smoking-cessation programs available to employees.

The cost of smoking to the employer is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at more than $3,000 a year, she said.

Breathing secondhand smoke can result in higher medical costs for nonsmokers as well, she said.

Commissioner Al French said in a brief interview that he lost two relatives to smoking-related disease after watching them suffer for extended lengths of time.

As a result, he said he believes the county campus should be declared smoke-free.

The Riverpoint Campus, home of Washington State University Spokane, is going smoke-free on May 1.

“I’m not opposed to the idea of going to a smoke-free campus environment,” French said. But he acknowledged that a gradual change to designated areas is a reasonable transition.

Commissioner Mark Richard said he prefers the middle ground of creating designated smoking areas.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said he supports a smoking ban in the courtyard between the Public Safety Building and the Courthouse Annex.

One of the regular smokers in that area – a Spokane police officer – said smokers have rights, too.

She said she smokes at the required 25 feet from the building entrances and tries to respect nonsmokers.

“There should be some allowances for smokers,” she said.

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