Smokers adapt to 2-year-old ban

EVERETT — Jonathan Adams already had a tough job as head of security at Jimmy Z’s bar in Everett.

Then the state’s indoor smoking ban began.

Now, when smokers go outside the Hewitt Avenue bar, Adams, 37, has to keep them out from under the doorway awning, even if it’s cold and raining. When families with children walk by, he has to yell at smokers to stand aside. Sometimes at night, if the crowd of smokers gets too big, he has to hear from residents of nearby apartments who complain about the noise.

“They can’t smoke inside, and once they’re out here on the sidewalk, I can’t control them,” said Adams, taking a smoke break of his own, sitting along the damp wall outside the bar.

Despite problems with the law, violations of the state’s tougher indoor smoking ban have dropped significantly in Snohomish County since the law first went into effect on Dec. 8, 2005.

Last year, Snohomish Health District investigators wrote up 249 smoking ban violations, said Suzanne Pate, spokeswoman for the public health agency. In the first 11 months of this year, that number dropped to 80, she said.

The law bans smoking in bars, restaurants and bowling alleys and nontribal casinos. It also prohibits smokers from lighting up within 25 feet of doors, windows and air intakes.

Smokers can be fined up to $100 for violating the law, and businesses receive an initial warning, but can be fined $100 a day if they don’t comply.

The fine is steep enough to keep business owners honest, Adams said.

“When it’s raining, people go under the awning and hope I don’t say something, but I have to say something,” he said. “We can’t afford the fine.”

Since Oct. 1, the Snohomish Health District has contracted with a private investigator, Michael Schoonover, to check out reported complaints of the state’s indoor smoking ban.

The one-year contract calls for him to work four to six hours a week for a maximum salary of $10,000, Pate said. The money to pay for the contract comes from the state’s share of a settlement in a national tobacco lawsuit, she said.

The Snohomish Health District is thought to be the second countywide health agency in the state to hire contract employees to help check out reports of smoking violations.

The Spokane Regional Health District has contracted with an agency that hires retired or off-duty State Patrol officers to help with its inspections, said Scott Roy, who coordinates its tobacco prevention and control program.

Next year, the agency plans to hire a private investigator to do some of the inspection work, he said.

Just how much of an impact the smoking ban has had on businesses has been much-debated.

During 2006, the first year the law was in effect, tax revenues showed slower growth for bars and taverns but no effect on restaurants, many of which were smoke free before the ban, said Mike Gowrylow, a spokesman for the state Department of Revenue.

While bars and taverns that catered to smokers certainly were more heavily affected, he said, he characterized the overall impact on businesses as minor.

Jennifer Northrup, who co-owns Jimmy Z’s in Everett with her husband, said her tavern still gets its share of smokers.

“We still have a good crowd, but a lot of this generation smokes,” Northrup said. “They do good. We don’t have a problem with people trying to smoke inside the building.”

In Snohomish County, tax revenues from bars and taverns grew by 2.7 percent between 2005 and 2006, Gowrylow said.

About 85 percent of the state’s restaurants were nonsmoking even before the law went into effect, said Anthony Anton, chief executive of the Washington Restaurant Association.

But some of those that weren’t, such as sports bars, pubs and taverns, have felt an impact, he said.

These were businesses that had developed a niche market as smoker-friendly, he said.

“They didn’t pick up new customers,” Anton said. “That segment got hurt.”

Tavern owners lost money not only from reduced alcohol sales after the smoking ban went into effect, but a drop in pull-tab revenues, he said, profits they had come to depend on.

Overall, the number of taverns and bars have dropped as well as their market share, Anton said.

In 2003, taverns, sports bars and pubs comprised nearly 9 percent of the restaurant market in Washington, he said. This year, that number has dropped to a little more than 6 percent.

Isaiah Johnson, 23, a manager at Tailgater Joe’s sports bar in Everett, said he likes the smoking ban because it helps keep the bar clean inside. However, he feels bar owners should be able to decide whether to allow smoking in their establishments.

If customers at Tailgater Joe’s need to smoke, they are asked stand by the bus stop umbrella to the west or the ash tray to the east.

“I think it’s probably good for restaurants and bars, but I still think it infringes on owners’ rights,” Johnson said.

The one type of business that may have seen an increase in customers since the smoking ban went into effect is bowling alleys, Anton said.

“People with young kids didn’t want to go to bowling alleys any more because of the smoke,” Anton said.

On the other hand, “a lot of league bowlers are die-hard smokers,” he said.

“You’ll hear some say ‘This is great for bowling alleys.’ Others will say ‘This is terrible.’ “

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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