San Juan County Council split over broader smoking ban

Smoking no longer would be allowed in county parks or at the fairgrounds in Friday Harbor — or on any county-owned property, for that matter — if the county Board of Health has its way.

But proposed legislation endorsed by the board met stiff resistance last week from several County Council members, who, citing the difficulty of enforcing such a ban, were unconvinced that the benefits would outweigh its cost.

“The reality, I think, is a ban on all county property would be unenforceable,” said Councilman Rich Peterson, San Juan North. “We don’t need another ordinance that we can’t enforce.”

Councilman Gene Knapp, Orcas East, agreed. Knapp noted that after losing his father, a sister and a best friend to smoking that he’s dead-set against the habit. However, he said, state and local law already prohibits smokers from lighting up inside county building or within 25 feet of doorways and windows, and extending the ban beyond that would be a stretch for enforcement.

Despite its skepticism about enforcement, the council agreed to consider the health board’s proposal, which includes alternatives for reducing smoking on county-owned property in lieu of a broader ban, at a later date. Council Chairman Howie Rosenfeld argued that county Health Officer Dr. Frank James should have an opportunity to make a case for the proposed ban and weigh in on the recommendations before the council issues a final decision.

Councilman Alan Lichter, Orcas West, who’s also chairman of the health board, noted that statistics cited by Dr. James rank smoking as the nation’s No. 1 preventable cause of premature death. Several Washington counties, he noted, have banned smoking on all county-owned property, including parks. Lichter added that the dangers posed by second-hand smoke, in confined areas, like at the fair, in particular, can’t be dismissed.

“I don’t think this council should drop this,” he said.

For now, at least, it hasn’t.