Washington was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889. Soon thereafter, our state’s founders and legislators sat down to the business of outlawing arguably enjoyable and po- tentially harmful activities and products.
These prohibitions were applauded by progressives and members of the temperance movement. But others just wanted to buy
a drink, light up a cigarette, and perhaps take in the spectacle of
a “dance marathon.”
Washington was the first state to ban the sale of cigarettes to
both adults and minors, in 1893. The penalty for violation: A
fine of up to $500, six months in jail, or both. Sponsored by C. T.
Roscoe, an Everett attorney and Republican state legislator, the
law was struck down in federal courts the following summer on
the grounds that it improperly restricted interstate trade. The
state Legislature prohibited cigarettes again in 1907. To cir-
cumvent the interstate commerce concern, the new legislation
exempted merchants involved in interstate commerce. Two
years later, the reform-minded Legislature banned the pos-
session (in addition to the sale and manufacture) of cigarettes
and cigarette paper. This expanded prohibition was part of a
revised criminal code that also outlawed tipping, required sa-
loons be open to public view, and dictated that Superior Court
judges wear black silk robes.
The cigarette laws were rooted in the belief that cigarettes
were both a health hazard and an immoral habit. It was thought
to be especially unseemly for women to light up “coffin nails”
or “devil’s toothpicks,” as cigarettes were then known. However,
enforcement of the ban was spotty and tended to occur only in
rural areas. Police in small towns around the state arrested about
60 smokers during the first month that the law was in effect, but
only six more thereafter. No arrests occurred in Seattle.
The most high-profile cigarette-ban violator was William
D. “Big Bill” Haywood, a labor organizer who was convicted in
North Yakima and Davenport. He was fined $9.50, plus court
costs of $5.95. Though Haywood claimed to be the spark that ignited the movement to re-legalize cigarettes, several legislators
had independent concerns about the enforceability of the law.
Senator Josiah Collins, a member of the judiciary committee,
helmed a successful campaign to lift the cigarette ban as part of
the 1911 session.
Almost a century later, on Nov. 8, 2005, Washingtonians
approved Initiative 901, which prohibited smoking in “public
places” such as bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and private
residences used to provide social services like child care or adult
Our State Has Worked Hard for Our Smokes, Booze,
Slot Machines, Jazz, and the Right to Dance Until We Drop
(And To Prohibit All of the Above)
by Allison Peryea