LONG BEACH — A City Council committee has unveiled a tough no-smoking ordinance, just days after a similar law went into effect in Los Angeles.
The proposed ordinance would require employers to put smoking policies into writing and give the edge to non-smokers in office disputes over wafting smoke in the workplace.
In addition, it would establish fines of up to $500 for persons caught smoking in restricted areas.
Members of the council's Human Resources Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to have city legal officials draw up a formal draft of the ordinance. The three-member committee will hold a public hearing on the issue some time next month and then is expected to send the proposed regulations on to the full council.
"We're not going to turn smoking off with this ordinance," said Councilman Marc Wilder, chairman of the Human Resources Committee. "It's more a way to formalize the trend against smoking that has evolved in our society in recent years."
The proposed ordinance presented to the committee Tuesday by Rugmini Shah, city health officer, borrows much of its language and content from the statute that went into effect Sunday in Los Angeles.
That ordinance prompted intense debate among Los Angeles council members and a dogged lobbying effort by the tobacco industry.
Long Beach officials, however, predicated their no-smoking ordinance would not spark controversy. The idea of a no-smoking law has already been endorsed by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I don't think there's going to be any big problems with this," said Councilwoman Eunice Sato, a committee member. "Somebody from the tobacco industry will probably come and talk against it. You almost have to expect them to. But it isn't going to make a difference on the vote."
More than 50 cities in the state have smoking ordinances, varying from those that prohibit smoking only in government offices to tougher statutes that regulate it in most public and private settings, Shah said in a written report.
If the City Council approves a no-smoking ordinance, Long Beach would becoming the fifth city in the county to have such regulations, joining Glendale, Inglewood, Pasadena and Los Angeles.
As proposed, the ordinance would have the greatest effect on office workers, city officials maintain.
Written Policy Required
It would require that business owners compile and enforce a written policy on smoking within 90 days after the ordinance goes into effect.
At the minimum, the employer would have to prohibit smoking in conference rooms and other public places, provide no-smoking areas in lunchrooms and lounges, and give an employee the right to designate the area around the desk where he or she works as a no-smoking zone.
In any dispute arising because of smoking, the rights of the non-smoker would be given precedence under the ordinance.
But an employer could take it even further. According to the proposed ordinance, an employer would be able to ban smoking throughout the office.
While the ordinance stresses that it is the responsibility of employers to provide smoke-free areas for non-smokers, it does not require that a business owner pay for a modification to the office to improve conditions.
Councilman Thomas Clark questioned whether the ordinance would create problems in large office settings, with rooms "checkerboarded" by desks declared to be smoking or non-smoking.
"The most difficult place to enforce this thing will be in the workplace," he said.
The ordinance also would prohibit or dramatically restrict smoking in public restrooms, theaters, the Long Beach Arena and other auditoriums, hospitals and public meeting rooms.
Although bars would not be affected by the smoking ban, restaurants that seat more than 50 people would be required to have no-smoking areas for 25% of their customers. If the restaurant did not provide no-smoking areas, it would have to prohibit smoking outright.
Wilder questioned why the requirement for restaurant no-smoking areas calls for a quarter of all seating to be for non-smokers.
"Why not designate 25% for the smokers and 75% for the non-smokers?" he said. "That's more indicative of society."
But City Manager John Dever said that, as a practical matter, most restaurants already provide a majority of seating areas that are no-smoking.
The ordinance would be enforced by the city Health Department, Dever said. But he admitted that the proposed regulations "leave a lot of discretion to the people in the workplace," allowing disputes to be sorted out before city officials intervene.
Under the fine schedule being proposed, persons caught smoking in a restricted area would be penalized $50 for a first infraction. They would be fined $100 for a second infraction and $500 if they were caught a third time within a year of the first penalty.