Politics Smoked Out
As much as I hate to reignite the Great Smoking Ban War on our website, I did promise the guy who picketed the talk I took part in at Town Hall last week with Randi Rhodes and Ron Reagan that I would post pictures of his sign on our website…
Here’s a better look at his sign…
The title of the talk was “What Makes a Progressive?”, and the picketer—whose name I didn’t get—had one answer to the question: A progressive paper doesn’t run tobacco ads in its pages. The picketer, upset about toboacco ads in the paper, handed out flyers that read… “Contact The Stranger and Tell Them You Are Fed Up With This Harmful Influence on Our Community.” I’m sorry to report that we didn’t get a single call from any of the 1000+ folks who attended the event.
One of the complaints itemized on the flyer was this: “AND DID YOU KNOW: THE STRANGER ENCOURAGED ITS READERSHIP TO VOTE AGAINST 901, THE PUBLIC INDOOR SMOKING BAN?â€ť
You gotta love our non-endorsement of the smoking ban. We made it clear that we weren’t endorsing 901 because of the idiotic, unenforceable, and wide-open-to-abuse 25 foot rule. We were for smoking bans in bars and clubs, but we worried about selective enforcement by the SPD.
The Stranger Election Control Board is no fan of secondhand smoke, and we would have loved to endorse a statewide smoking ban. Our problem with I-901 is that it doesn’t stop at banning smoking inside of bars, restaurants, and other public venues. It also bans smoking outside bars and restaurants, prohibiting citizens from lighting up within 25 feet of any door, window, or vent that leads into a public establishment.
In a dense urban area such as Seattle, this creates a practical problem for certain blocks that are popular precisely because they are filled with doors, windows, and vents into public establishments (where would one smoke on such a block, except in the middle of the street?). But more disturbingly, the law’s vague language on its own enforcement creates an irresistible opportunity for selective enforcement, a tactic long used by authorities in Seattle to target “certain” clubs and businesses.
Couldn’t be clearer—for smoking bans, against this one.
Since our non-endorsement of the public indoor smoking ban aggressively endorsed the concept of indoor public smoking bans, angry smokers viewed our non-endorsement as an endorsement. For months after the smoking ban passed (it passed by an overwhelming margin even without our endorsement), angry smokers posted hundreds of comments on our website, blasting us for weeks on end about our support of the smoking ban, which we, uh, didn’t actually endorse.
So where are we now? Since our non-endorsement of the smoking ban endorsed the concept of public indoor smoking bans, smokers were, and remain, furious with us. But because it was a non-endorsement, now anti-tobacco activists are pointing to our non-endorsement as case-closed evidence that The Stranger is in bed with tobacco companies. So by telling people to Vote No I-901, we somehow managed to eternally piss off tobacco smokers and tobacco haters alike. Neat trick.
As for the issue of taking ads from tobacco companies, that’s a business decision, not an editorial decision. An ad in The Stranger does not constitute an endorsement from The Stranger. Provided there aren’t any legal issues—no copyright violations, no libel, and believe it or not, nothing indecent (ahem)—we generally avoid censoring ads.