Santa Monica employers will have to develop no-smoking policies within six months under an ordinance given preliminary approval by the City Council.
The ordinance, scheduled for final approval in two weeks, also prohibits smoking in theaters, museums, libraries, buses, elevators, public restrooms, groceries, health care facilities and pharmacies, unless a special smoking area is designated.
The ordinance, modeled after a Los Angeles law, exempts bars and restaurants, businesses with five or fewer employees and companies in which all employees are smokers.
Employers with more than five employees will be required to provide a "smoke-free" working environment. A written statement outlining the policy must be presented to new and current employees. The employer may designate "any work area or the entire premises" as a no-smoking area. Signs marking no-smoking areas are required.
At least two-thirds of the space in employee cafeterias, lunch rooms and lounges must be designated as no-smoking area. Smoking would be prohibited in restrooms, elevators and nurse's aid stations in the workplace.
If the council approves the ordinance, Santa Monica will join 27 California cities that have enacted no-smoking laws, including Los Angeles, Pasadena and San Francisco. Proponents contend that the ordinances protect non-smokers from adverse health effects of inhaling secondary smoke.
Councilman David G. Epstein, who proposed the ordinance in September, said smoke is "probably the primary toxic substance in our environment."
Walt Bilofsky, a board member of Californians for Nonsmokers' Rights, called the Santa Monica law "a moderate ordinance" in that it does not apply to restaurants and exempts businesses with five or fewer employees.
Scientific Articles Cited
Bilofsky said evidence of the effects of secondary smoke has been accumulated in more than 500 scientific articles. "The only one to dispute (the effect of secondary smoke) is a representative from the Tobacco Institute," Bilofsky said. "And they still claim that smoking does not harm" smokers.
John D. Kelly, regional vice president for the Tobacco Institute, maintained in a letter to the council that there is no conclusive scientific evidence that inhaling secondary smoke damages health.
When asked during the council meeting Tuesday night to cite the advantages of tobacco, Kelly responded, "I enjoy it. It relieves a lot of tension for me."
Kelly said similar ordinances have been difficult to enforce in some areas and that there is no evidence that the measures have made a significant difference.
Under Santa Monica's ordinance, employers who do not comply could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail, a $500 fine or both. An employer could also be charged with a misdemeanor if he discriminated against employees who requested compliance with the law.
Most other violations would be treated as infractions with a maximum penalty of a $100 fine.
Some witnesses urged the council to adopt an ordinance that would also apply to companies with five or fewer employees, but council members said that such businesses could deal with the situation on an informal basis.
The ordinance had originally been proposed to take effect a year after the city had a chance to test a policy on its own employees. But council members said they were persuaded by the public testimony to implement the ordinance within six months.
City Manager John Jalili said the city has not adopted a policy yet. He said he intends to meet with the city's 13 employee groups to work out a plan before the ordinance applies to the rest of the city.
Epstein said there was little objection to the ordinance from the business community except restaurants, which have been exempted. He said that many bars and restaurants in Santa Monica provide no-smoking areas voluntarily.
Councilman Ken Edwards urged people to apply pressure on the restaurants. "When you go into a restaurant, ask if they have a no-smoking section," Edwards said. "If enough people demand no-smoking sections," restaurants will set aside the space, he said.