by Joel Smith & r & With few big-ticket races on the ballot, it seemed to be the initiatives that brought most local voters out this year. And few seemed to compel citizens as much as I-901, which would expand the ban on smoking in public places to include schools, bars, taverns, casinos bowling alleys, skating rinks, you name it -- pretty much every public place outside of tribal land (a bone of contention among some of the initiative's opponents).
I-901 alone was enough to propel two young women in north Spokane to the voting booth on Tuesday. Each was a smoker, but they had different takes on the proposal to ban smoking indoors.
"I smoke, and I don't like the idea of having to go outside every time I want to smoke," said Molly Merkle of northwest Spokane. "They should allow smoking in bars, at least. I went to Europe a couple of years ago and everybody over there was smoking everywhere. I think it's strange that we're just the opposite." (For the record, Ireland was the first country to pass a smoking ban, in March of 2004.)
"I wanted to vote on the smoking issue -- that's the only one that got me here," said Sarah LaSarte, casting her ballot in the Logan neighborhood. "I want smoking to be banned, and I smoke, which is kind of funny. But it's for health reasons -- especially for the children in my family and for the older people in my family. It's a lot better for their health. Even though I smoke, I'm willing to go outside."
LaSarte's response echoes one of the initiative proponents' main arguments -- that the ban would protect children who can't simply choose to leave a smoky area from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The rationale for many voters, however, was devoid of the big-picture arguments about smokers' rights and the definition of what makes up a "public place." Very few mentioned the clause that forbids smoking within 25 feet of building entrances, exits and ventilation intakes. Many simply voted with their lungs.
"Yes. Ban it. I don't like it," said Gonzaga student Kelly Erickson.
"We're non-smokers and don't like to be affected by it," said Valley mom Terri Crum.
"I don't like smoking, I don't want to be affected by it. I don't want to walk through it," said community college professor Judy Cameron.
Several former smokers agreed. "If it affects me where I shop or eat or work," postulated Valley sign-maker Dennis Seymour, trailing off. "It bothers me a lot right now."
Larry Schmitt, who is retired from a career with Kaiser Aluminum, seemed to be shouldering the burden of other smokers with his vote. "I did smoke, many years ago," he said. "It was hard. I struggled. All these other people smoke; it's bad for them. If there's something I can do to help somebody to not start smoking in the first place..."
Not everyone we talked to agreed with the ban. Several objected, saying it's not the government's place to regulate such things, or that the ban could hurt the state's economy. But these voices were easily drowned out in a cacophony of anti-tobacco fervor. The Associated Press called the contest just after 9 pm Tuesday, only an hour after official results began to pour in. As of press time, the initiative was passing by more than 250,000 votes.
Smoke if you got 'em. The new rule becomes law on Dec. 8.