Spokane police now can ticket smokers for $50

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The Spokane City Council has voted to give police the power to write $50 tickets for smokers violating a rule to stay at least 25 feet away from building entrances.

Up to now, the Spokane Regional Health District was the only agency with power to enforce smoking rules and it has concentrated on educating building owners, not writing tickets.

The Spokesman-Review reported Tuesday that police will give warnings before writing a $50 ticket, under smoking rules approved by Washington voters in 2005. The law prohibits smoking within 25 feet of building entrances, windows that open and vents.

"If we don't have any enforcement and a building owner feels that they are being unduly affected by smokers violating the 25-foot rule, they've got to have some ability to address that," Councilman Jon Snyder said Monday night.

The law requires that officers give violators a warning before issuing a ticket.

The issue was raised by downtown businesses that have complained the Spokane Transit Authority's elimination of the lone smoking area at the STA Plaza last year has forced smokers to wait for buses elsewhere.

Some downtown businesses and building owners have responded with an array of strategies to discourage loitering. Some have added security officers. At least one is piping opera music along its perimeter. Others are installing "Mosquitoes," devices that emit a high-pitched annoying squeal audible mostly to younger people.

"We can't run every smoker out of downtown," Snyder said. "It's about coming up with a balanced approach."

Smokers waiting for buses Monday were critical of the change.

Mike Griffith, a Spokane Valley resident, said officials have gone overboard removing places where smoking is allowed outdoors. Officers have more important business than enforcing the 25-foot smoking rule, he said.

"It's just a little asinine," he said.

Steven Jenkins was walking near the bus plaza after a security guard informed him he had to keep moving to smoke legally while awaiting a bus.

"It seems like they are taking away every single spot where we can smoke," Jenkins said.