Northwest NEWS

July 20, 1998

Local News

Snohomish joins King County in tobacco ad restrictions

   by Woodinville Weekly staff
   Drive through central Puget Sound in the near future and you probably won't see much in the way of flashy cigarette pitchmen and women dancing, prancing, riding horses or lounging around.
   That's because Snohomish County has joined King and Pierce counties in cracking down on tobacco advertising.
   Last Tuesday, the Snohomish County Health District voted 13-0 to ban most outdoor tobacco ads.
   "I think it's an extremely important public health action with a big payoff, maybe not immediately, but as a way tobacco is perceived," said Dr. Ward Hinds, health officer with the Snohomish Health District.
   Only in certain locations of Snohomish and Pierce counties will cigarette ads be allowed, and those will be limited to drab, two-tone signs with just brand and price listing. King County could adopt similar regulations as soon as mid-September.
   Snohomish County's action follows on the coat-tails of a wave of state lawsuits against Big Tobacco, a change in public sentiment about smoking (California banned it in bars and restaurants earlier this year), and a major change in the makeup of the health district's board.
   Locally, Pierce County took some of the first steps. According to David Freiheit, a public policy specialist with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, all outdoor tobacco advertising there has been restricted to the "tombstone" type since March 1, 1997.
   He defined the somewhat ironically named "tombstone" style as basic black text on a white background.
   Freiheit said tombstone ads are banned in so-called "kid zones," 1,000-foot radiuses around schools, playgrounds, public parks and bus stops.
   Beginning January 1, 1999, Snohomish County will only allow tombstone signs, but will outlaw them in kid zones as well.
   While the usually bright and bouncy tobacco ads are designed to associate brands in kids' minds, Hinds said "tombstone advertising is very boring, unattractive and uninteresting to children."
   Before the health board made its decision, convenience store owners argued that the county was taking away their rights to advertise, and said while some stores could continue to promote cigarettes, others within certain distances of areas minors are known to frequent could not.
   Last week could have been the death-knell for tobacco ads in the area. The King County Board of Health, which voted to eliminate most tobacco billboards last year, held off on making a decision on tombstone and kid zone regulations until September 18, according to Nick Krivokopich, county council media relations manager.
   Snohomish County legislation is similar to Pierce County's model which has been upheld in federal district court. And though a challenge has been filed in appellate court, Freiheit didn't anticipate it would be overturned.
   Hinds has similar feelings about Snohomish County's new regulations. He said enforcement will begin with education and a chance to comply, but would then proceed to health officer orders. Appeals could be directed to the county hearing examiner and then to superior court, though Hinds expected the rules to be upheld.
   The new rules come after the community asked the Health Board to reconsider a 7-6 November, 1997 vote against banning ads, Hinds said. There are now nine new members on the health board.
   The legislation affects about 420 tobacco retailers and 150 to 200 billboards county-wide, Hinds said.
   Rosanne Marks, a spokeswoman for AK/Media NW, said there are currently only three billboards with tobacco ads in Snohomish County.
   The Puget Sound's major outdoor advertising company "has seen the handwriting on the wall" in the movements to ban the ads, Marks said, adding that the firm already has an agreement not to advertise tobacco products on its King County billboards, and is in, and will be in, compliance with Pierce and Snohomish County regulations.
   Because the company has made efforts to diversify its advertisers, she said there hasn't been any negative impact.