If Plato was right, and necessity really is the mother of invention, then Washington state’s new smoking ban must be the mother of the butt hut.
Butt huts, tobacco tents, nicotine lean-tos — call them what you will. Since the voter-approved ban went into effect last week prohibiting smoking in public places and workplaces and within 25 feet of doorways, all kinds of makeshift shelters have popped up outside businesses.
Three smoking tents have been set up outside Goldie’s Casino, in Shoreline, to accommodate smokers. But regardless, business has plummeted, said general manager Larry Wheaton.
“Our business is down 30 percent since Thursday,” Wheaton said. “I talked to other casino general managers and it is the same thing across the board.”
Former mini-casino customers are likely frequenting tribal casinos, Wheaton said, who sent an employee to the Tulalip Casino on Friday to see if it was unusually busy. The employee reported the tribal casino was so crowded it was hard to move.
“We are doing everything we can do to accommodate smokers,” Wheaton said. “We are at the point now that we will have to make cutbacks in scheduling and the next step is layoffs; this is pretty serious.”
The drop in business is more than he anticipated, Wheaton said, who in fact was excited about picking up new customers who do not frequent casinos because they are filled with smoke. He has seen very few new customers, however.
So far, Wheaton said the health department has not done any inspections, although he has complied by having tents 25 feet from every exit, and no longer allows ashtrays or matches. However, he said the mini-casino is still allowed to have two cigarette vending machines.
“I had them (tents) up a week before so everyone knew Goldie’s cares,” Wheaton said.
Stevens Hospital in Edmonds has a smoking tent for employees and patients — 25 feet from its entrance, of course. The only amenity in the awning-type shelter on the south side of the hospital campus is a receptacle for cigarette butts and ashes.
And no, the irony of a smoking area at a healthcare facility is not lost on Stevens, the hub of Snohomish County Hospital District No. 2, said spokeswoman Beth Engel. Next month the hospital will sit in on a Snohomish Health District program about smoke-free campuses, she added.
Daverthumps Pub of Lynnwood put a space heater and an ash tray outside for its smokers.
O’Houlies Pub of Mountlake Terrace is providing courtesy umbrellas for patrons.
Patrons of Engel’s Pub in downtown Edmonds simply brave the elements when they duck out for a quick smoke in the adjoining alley, according to owner Renata Churchill. But that means some fudge on the distance requirement.
“Here in Edmonds, if they meet the 25-foot rule, they’d be out on the dotted line down the middle of the street,” observed Churchill.
The area’s community colleges were seemingly ahead of the curve. Several years ago, both Edmonds and Shoreline constructed covered areas for people to puff away. At Edmonds, those all happened to be more than 25 feet away. At Shoreline, however, one will need to be relocated.
Many businesses are putting up minimalist shelters while they try to figure out a way to accommodate the ban — and to keep smoking employees and customers out of the rain. The question is are they safe and legal?
That depends on the structure, said Kenneth Korshaven, a Lynnwood building official. Building officials and fire marshals want to make sure the temporary structures are safe.
“Our concern right now is life safety issues,” Korshaven said. “We do not want a lightweight structure with six people standing under it and six inches of snow falls and (the structure) collapses and lands on their heads. Or if a wind comes up, we do not want it (the structure) blowing over on top of them.”
A week after the ban went into effect, The Edmonds building division had yet to receive any inquiries about smoking shelters, reported Jeannine Graf, building official.
Business owners should consult local city officials about what will keep their smoking patrons dry and safe, Korshaven said.
“I suggest that you draw a little sketch of what you have done and come in and talk to us,” Korshaven said. “We will try to make it work within our laws. Our job is compliance with code, not punishment.”
There is also a question of how elaborate or permanent a smoke shack or tobacco tent can get before it is considered a building. In which case, the state smoking ban would prevent people from smoking inside of it. That is a question city and state officials will have to resolve in the months to come, Korshaven said.
“One of the problems that I have in reading the state law is it says that any building used for the purpose of assembling people should not have smoking. So if I build a shelter for smokers does that mean I should build it 25 feet from itself?” Korshaven said. “This is going to be interesting for the next few months.”
In the city of Lynnwood, property owners can build an accessory building, like a shed, that is less than 120 square feet without a building permit, Korshaven said. But the structure has to follow the city’s building codes for safety. For instance, the shed or shelter has to be structurally sound, must be separated from another building and must not block any fire lanes or handicapped parking spaces, he said.
In Lynnwood, property owners can put up a tent for 180 days without involving the building code, Korshaven said. But the structure is supposed to be non-combustable.
Building officials are ready to answer questions and respond when residents or business owners call to complain, Korshaven said. But few cities will have the resources to go door-to-door.
“We will be watching for them,” Korshaven said. “We do not have time for someone driving around to verify if these are being built or not. We would respond at anytime that we have a complaint filed.”
Enterprise writers Brooke Fisher, Jenny Lynn Zappala and Sue Waldburger, along with writers from The Herald, contributed to this article.