Smoking ban a clouded issue for commissioners

ould it happen here?

While Pierce County’s smoking ban is facing its own legal challenge, its neighbor to the north must soon address the issue that has become an argument between health and individual rights. And while the Kitsap Board of Commissioners is keeping an open mind, anyone favoring a smoking ban may have a tough time convincing this particular governing body.

“Oh God, I hope we don’t go there,” North Kitsap commissioner Chris Endresen said. “You need to draw the line between private and public. We’ll just see what happens in Pierce County.”

Should a smoking ban gain impetus, it would be addressed by the Kitsap County Board of Health, which contains the three commissioners and four local mayors. But the commissioners, Endresen, Patty Lent and Jan Angel, are now leaning against a ban; acknowledging the health issues but placing an emphasis on freedom of choice.

Endresen is a former smoker, while Lent and Angel have never smoked. “We need to meet the needs of smokers and non smokers, but my gut reaction would worry about effect on local business, taverns and restaurants of military,” Angel said. Similarly, Lent feels that “it should be the property owner’s decision to ban or not ban smoking.”

Health officials take a somewhat different view, especially with regard to the impact of second-hand smoke. Restaurant employees may inhale the equivalent of two packs a day. And bar and restaurant workers are 1-1/2 to two times as likely to die of lung cancer from this exposure, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

The Kitsap Health District reports that 20.7 percent of adults in the county smoke cigarettes, and that 16.4 percent of pregnant women smoke during pregnancy. This is higher than the state level of 12.6 percent.

Even without government action, smokers have fewer places where they can light up. For instance, the Island Grill on Bainbridge Island, once a smoker’s refuge, initiated a smoking ban three months ago.

Owner Brett Hayfield said the restaurant suffered a drop in bar sales and a corresponding increase in food customers, although there was an overall loss of business.

Hayfield laments this decline, but said reinstating smoking is not an option — partially because he feels an extensive smoking ban is inevitable.

“I’m not a fan of big government,” he said. “But in this politically correct society it won’t be too long before they tell us what to do.”

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