LONG BEACH — A tough no-smoking law, which would sharply restrict smoking in public settings and establish fines of up to $500 for violators, has won preliminary approval from the City Council.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to have the city attorney write a final draft of the ordinance, the first step in a process that is expected to culminate with approval of the law next month.
As currently drafted, the statute would require employers to put smoking policies into writing and give the edge to non-smokers in office disputes over fumes wafting in the workplace.
The ordinance also would prohibit or dramatically restrict smoking in public restrooms, theaters, restaurants, auditoriums, grocery stores, hospitals and public meeting rooms.
Under the fine schedule, persons caught smoking in a restricted area could 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.
Several council members lauded the proposed ordinance, which was written during the past four months by members of the council's three-member Human Resources Committee with the assistance of city attorney officials and Dr. Rugmini Shah, city health officer.
"It's a tough ordinance, but it's reasonable and it's flexible," Councilman Marc Wilder said.
Wilder, chairman of the Human Resources Committee, said the ordinance would bring city law "up to date with what a lot of businesses in the city are already doing" to restrict smoking in the workplace.
Despite the unanimous vote, Councilman Edd Tuttle expressed qualms about the proposed law, saying it could "open a can of worms" in the business community. Tuttle also questioned whether any ban on smoking could be adequately enforced.
The ordinance is similar to a law that went into effect in Los Angeles in April. The tobacco industry waged a furious lobbying campaign in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the Los Angeles ordinance. But tobacco interests have done little, so far, to fight the proposed Long Beach law.
As currently drafted, the law incorporates several suggestions made by Californians for Nonsmokers' Rights, a Berkeley-based anti-smoking group. But the council refused to go along with one of the organization's toughest suggestions--that an employer be prohibited from firing or in any way discriminating against a non-smoking employee because of demands involving smoking in the workplace.
Nonetheless, the no-smoking statute would have its greatest effect on office workers. It would require that owners of businesses with five or more employees compile and enforce a written policy on smoking within 90 days after the ordinance goes into effect.
Besides prohibiting smoking in conference rooms and other public places, the employer would have to provide no-smoking areas in lunch rooms and lounges and give an employee the right to designate his or her desk area as a no-smoking zone. In disputes arising because of smoking, the rights of the non-smoker would be given preference.
An employer can take it even further, banning smoking throughout the office. The law does not, however, require a business owner to pay for a modification to improve office conditions for non-smokers.
Hard to Enforce
Wilder noted that some firms, such as General Telephone Co., have attempted to establish smoking policies but have been rebuffed by employees because the companies had no way of legally enforcing a ban. By approving a no-smoking law, the companies will be able to make "the existing policies workable," Wilder said.
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 all smoking.
During a May committee hearing, Dr. Philip Witorsch of George Washington University and Dr. Salvatore DiNardi of the University of Massachusetts said that current evidence does not support claims that smoke inhaled by non-smokers poses a health hazard.
Robert Linnell, a professor at the USC Institute of Safety and Systems Management, countered Witorsch and DiNardi in a June 12 letter to the council, saying that "research results on the effects of tobacco smoke on non-smokers overwhelmingly support the conclusion that there are adverse effects."