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Pasadena Reaction : Smoking Law: Smooth, Mild

April 04, 1985|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — When this city passed a stringent ordinance regulating smoking in offices and public places, opponents spoke out bitterly against unnecessary government regulation in an area where they said voluntary compliance and good business practices were already solving the problem.

It now appears that because the law is enforced only when there are complaints, it has been quietly accepted and disputes are being resolved privately.

City officials, who had no idea what to expect when they passed the ordinance a year ago, say they are pleased by the lack of difficulties.

Only Two Complaints Filed

"It has been no problem and we have only had two complaints," said Dr. Elton Blum, city health officer who is responsible for enforcement of the ordinance, which took effect last May.

"One was a non-smoker complaining about his rights in the workplace and that problem was easily taken care of," Blum said. "The other involved a restaurant where the hostess told people there was no separate section for non-smokers. The owner said the restaurant did have a no-smoking section but that the hostess was unaware of it.

"We have had no businessmen saying they can't work it out and we have had no applications for exemptions," Blum said.

The law prohibits smoking in elevators, hospitals and health care facilities, public meeting rooms, theaters and auditoriums and public restrooms.

Fourth of Seating Space

Eating establishments with a capacity of 50 or more must designate at least 25% of their seating area for non-smokers.

Workplace rules allow any employee in an office the right to designate his immediate area as a no-smoking area. In any dispute arising under the smoking policy, the rights of the non-smoker are given precedence.

However, employers and restaurant owners are not required to incur expenses for such things as installation of partitions.

The ordinance does not stipulate how non-compliance is to be punished.

Although the city's Health Department is responsible for enforcement, it does not seek violators but acts only when it receives complaints.

This is why the Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the ordinance, has had no feedback from its members, said Rolfe Arnhym, executive vice president.

"It seems to be working on the honor system," he said. "Some businesses have not followed up and some took the simplest measures, just posting a few signs and establishing general loose guidelines.

"There are restaurants that really haven't put (no-smoking areas) in place but people don't want to create havoc (so they don't file a complaint).

"The ordinance has raised the level of consciousness and forced voluntarism, but there have been no disputes so it (the ordinance) is not tough to contend with. But we would get feedback if it was rigorously enforced."

Author of Ordinance

Jess Hughston of the Board of City Directors, who authored and aggressively pushed for passage of the ordinance, said, "We didn't want the Health Department to go out looking for violators."

Hughston said he has solved a couple of problems on his own. "I was in a bank where the no-smoking signs were not obvious and I had to stand in line next to a smoker," he said. "I spoke to the bank manager, who said he would put in more visible signs.

"When I went to a restaurant that didn't have a no-smoking section, the manager said he did not know it was required. When I went back later, the restaurant had established a section."

Restaurant owners, who bear the main burden of the ordinance, had said they respond to the needs and desires of customers in the interest of good business practices, rather than on the orders of government.

Headache at First

However, customers seem to like the idea, said Jerry Myers, owner of the Sawmill restaurant, who has found that the logistics of compliance become less of a problem as time goes by.

"It was a headache for a while but it is workable," he said. "Initially we allocated 25% of our seats to non-smokers but we have gradually increased it to 40%.

"We sometimes have to move people adjacent to the smoking section because the smoke drifts. Initially we were concerned because we didn't know how it would work out. We've worked it out by trial and error."

However, Myers said he would find it easier and more palatable if there were a statewide law. "Restaurants outside of Pasadena don't have our problems," he said. "Something like this should be done statewide instead of city by city."

Pasadena is the only city in the San Gabriel Valley that has such a smoking law.

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