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Torrance May Be Next to Regulate Smoking in Public

October 01, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Torrance appears destined to have an ordinance restricting smoking in public.

All seven members of the City Council say they favor such a law, and they are scheduled to consider several possible ordinances Oct. 13.

But with the recent history of the ill-fated Beverly Hills smoking ordinance in mind, the council is divided on how far to extend restrictions.

Councilman Dan Walker, who frequently takes pro-business positions, said he would favor only a very limited ordinance, while Councilmen Mark Wirth and Tim Mock favored more expansive regulations.

Beverly Hills attracted national attention earlier this year when its council passed an ordinance banning all smoking in restaurants, only to modify the ban several months later as impractical.

In Torrance, the issue has been smoldering since late last year when the American Cancer Society began lobbying for a tough ordinance. The Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, which was recently briefed by city staff on the issue, opposes any ordinance.

"You won't be able to please everyone on this, I can tell you that," Wirth said in an interview. "There will be some citizens who will want the original Beverly Hills ordinance. On the other hand, we are going to have some smokers very upset about losing places where they can smoke."

In many cities, partial or total smoking bans apply to restaurants, business offices and plants, publicly owned buildings, cultural, entertainment, sports and health facilities and public transit.

The city administration is preparing a report that will summarize medical literature on the dangers of smoke to non-smokers and compare anti-smoking ordinances passed by other cities. The report will also describe voluntary smoking policies in effect at 50 Torrance businesses and 30 restaurants, according to Monte McElroy, administrator of the city's Environmental Quality Division.

Draft ordinances will be included in the report, as well as a recommendation by McElroy that the city adopt some sort of ordinance and a separate recommendation from City Manager LeRoy Jackson. Jackson said Tuesday that he had not made up his mind whether he will recommend passage of an ordinance.

If Torrance passes an anti-smoking ordinance, it will become the second South Bay municipality to adopt one that covers more than smoking in city buildings. Manhattan Beach adopted a more comprehensive ordinance regulating smoking in public on June 16.

The City Council was asked to pass an anti-smoking ordinance last year by Seymour Uberman, a Torrance resident who is a representative of the American Cancer Society, and the city staff began looking into the matter. Uberman said he is impatient with city officials.

"This thing has been sat on too long," he said in an interview.

Councilwoman Dee Hardison concurred. "I wonder why it took so long," she said. "It has been pushed to the back burner too much."

But McElroy said the heavy workload of her department and surveys and research take time. On two occasions, delays were caused when the city manager requested additional information: Jackson said he wanted McElroy to gauge the cost and staff requirements of enforcing various anti-smoking ordinances and to assess their impact on businesses.

According to a national survey by the American Cancer Society of state and local anti-smoking regulations, the most sensitive issues involve regulating smoking in restaurants and in workplaces. Restaurants with more than a specified number of seats are typically required to set aside a minimum percentage of seats for non-smokers. Some regulations require businesses to permit smoking only in designated smoking lounges.

Citing voluntary efforts to protect the rights of non-smokers, Daniel J. McClain, vice president and general manager of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, said local business leaders do not see a need for an ordinance.

"Of course, the horrendous example of Beverly Hills is the first thing you think of," he said.

"Our opposition to the ordinance is not that we are against no-smoking sections in restaurants. . . . It was our opinion that most of the restaurants in the area already have adequate no-smoking sections. People demand it. You are going to lose customers if you don't."

In addition, he said that most other businesses in Torrance already have policies restricting smoking. "We prefer not to have the regulation," he said.

Among the ordinances being considered by Torrance officials are the ones in force in Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach and a model ordinance drafted by the American Cancer Society. All three forbid smoking in restrooms, waiting rooms and retail stores.

In Manhattan Beach, restaurants with more than 20 seats must set aside an area for non-smokers. The size of the area is left to the discretion of the restaurant owner.

McElroy said she questions whether a discretionary approach sufficiently protects non-smokers who are bothered by smoke but choose not to assert their rights.

The American Cancer Society model ordinance applies to restaurants with more than 50 seats, requiring non-smoking areas to contain at least 40% of all seats. In Los Angeles, the no-smoking ordinance does not apply to restaurants.

Manhattan Beach's workplaces are to be smoke-free "to the maximum extent possible," but implementation is left to the discretion of the business. The Los Angeles ordinance and the American Cancer Society model ordinance treat workplaces similarly.

All members of the Torrance council, except for Mayor Katy Geissert, are non-smokers.

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