Smokers find outdoor ban silly

It’s easy to find smokers – not as easy as it used to be, but they’re out there, on the street or at an outdoor coffee shop. It’s easy to find smokers who feel embattled.

They’re a scorned minority, bombarded by new “Tobacco-free” signs and the dirty looks of strangers.

Smokers will tell you how that feels. Just ask, I did.

I found smokers to be a wary bunch. It’s easy to find them, not so easy to get them to share their names.

At the 10th Street public boat launch in Everett, one man thought I was bumming a cigarette. He was perfectly happy to share one, and his opinion – he thinks it’s silly to ban smoking outdoors. But his name? No way.

With the help of the Snohomish Health District, play areas at many cities’ playgrounds and some beaches are posted with “For Our Kids – Tobacco free.” The program isn’t enforced by law, but the goal is to quash exposure to secondhand smoke.

Tara Kelley of Everett is frustrated by rules at Shoreline Community College, where she’s a student. Smoking is allowed only in a designated area, but not in other exterior places on campus. “Smokers get dirty looks – big time,” Kelley said.

Nancy Coggins of Mukilteo was waiting for the bus the other day, engrossed in a book and enjoying a cigarette, when a woman sat down. “She sat close and started coughing,” said Coggins, who added that she took the hint and snuffed out the cigarette.

At work at a fast-food restaurant, Coggins can only smoke “around back, by the garbage.”

Carol Landsverk of Everett, 20 years a smoker, doesn’t believe fears of secondhand smoke explain all the new limits. “Some people just don’t like it,” Landsverk said. “It’s saying, ‘Hey, you have to live by my rules.’ “

Outside a Smokin’ Sam’s tobacco shop in Everett, Kerry Gittins said he’s all for a smoking ban “when people are stuck in a building. But outdoors? C’mon,” he said.

Cheryl Combest, manager of the health district’s Tobacco Prevention and Control program, said smokers are indeed a minority. Data from the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a federal Centers for Disease Control survey, found 24.8 percent of people over 18 in Snohomish County are smokers. And 65.7 percent of them had tried to quit at least once in the previous year.

“What I hear is the ambivalence they have about smoking,” said Jonnae Tillman, who helps organize the health district’s quit-smoking classes. Many smokers support efforts to curb tobacco in the community, she said. “They don’t like smoke either.”

Health, surprisingly, isn’t the key reason Tillman hears for quitting, nor is it stigma.

“It’s cost,” Tillman said. “Health has never been a big factor. They’re having to make an uncomfortable choice today for a health payoff way in the future. But when they quit, the financial payoff is today.”

Every smoker I met wants someday to join the majority.

“I’d love to quit,” Landsverk said. “People don’t know how hard it is to quit.”

A lot of people know. A lot of us are free now, of rules, shabby smoking areas and dirty looks.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com.

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