Washington voters overwhelmingly approved a statewide smoking ban in 2005 as a way to protect workers’ health. The reasoning: People shouldn’t have to breathe carcinogenic air in order to keep their job.
That simple concept is the same today as it was when Initiative 901 passed, and it’s why lawmakers should snuff out House Bill 1296, the latest attempt to end-run it. HB 1296 would allow up to 40 cigar bars and 75 smoking rooms to be exempted from the Smoking in Public Places Act.
Among the co-sponsors of this misguided legislation are South Sound state Reps. Steve Kirby and David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, and Graham Hunt, R-Orting. They should recognize that this proposal goes against everything voters were trying to communicate when they passed I-901 because, again, workers would have to inhale smoke in order to keep their jobs.
Proponents argue that cigar bar employees would know what they’re getting into. They would be notified that they will be working in an environment where smoking is permitted and be required to sign an acknowledgement stating that they agree to accept that work condition.
However, nowhere in the bill is language stating that the employer agrees to accept responsibility for any health problems the workers may develop due to prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. No, that cost would ultimately fall upon others in the form of subsidized health care and higher insurance premiums.
The bill also includes language stating that there will be no retaliation against any employee “solely for refusing to consent to or sign the acknowledgement . . .”
Note the word “solely.” It wouldn’t take much imagination to figure out a way to get rid of a worker who balks at signing the acknowledgement. Would an employer with only a few workers be willing to keep someone who refuses to enter the smoking area?
Workers who are unwilling to endanger their health aren’t likely to be employed much longer. The bill gives their bosses a way to get rid of them; they just have to find a way that doesn’t have something to do with that acknowledgement they wouldn’t sign.
Despite the inroads that have been made against smoking, it is still the leading cause of preventable premature death in this country. Lawmakers should be looking for ways to continue reducing the smoking rate, not making it easier to circumvent a law that protects workers and the public.