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Indoor Ban on Bad Habit

November 29, 1987

Restrictions on smoking in the workplace have become the norm in recent years, here and in scores of cities across the country. Most of the resistance of just three years ago, except from the tobacco industry, has melted.

The ordinances didn't prove to be as problematic as predicted, and the number of smokers has continued to decline. A national study found that 73.5% of Americans were nonsmokers in 1986, compared to 67% in 1983.

Even fewer smokers question that the rights of nonsmokers take priority, as mounting medical evidence indicates that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers and respiratory infections in children.

All of these factors have bolstered nonsmokers' confidence and led to a second generation of proposals, such as a ban on smoking on airplanes and the ballot initiative that would have prohibited smoking in public places in Del Mar. The Del Mar measure failed, but 42% of the voters favored it. Four years ago, it probably wouldn't have made it onto the ballot.

Most recently, County Supervisor Leon Williams proposed banning smoking in all county-owned buildings and in many public places in unincorporated areas of the county. Restaurants and bars could allow smoking but would have to provide separate rooms with separate ventilation systems.

Smoking would not be prohibited at the beach or on the sidewalk, as in the Del Mar measure, but it would be banned anywhere smokers and nonsmokers are confined together, such as in ticket lines and sports arenas.

The Board of Supervisors referred the proposal to its staff for further study, and the matter will come back before the board in the next two months.

Objections already have been raised by restaurateurs to the proposal. Perhaps the experience of Aspen, Colo., can shed some light.

In 1985 that city required separate ventilation in all restaurants and bars, although separate rooms were not required. The local resort association reports that there have been no significant problems, even though many restaurants had to establish separate rooms, and some banned smoking because they couldn't afford the ventilation. None has closed because of the ordinance and there has been no drop-off in business, the association says, even though neighboring communities have fewer restrictions.

While we question the need and enforceability of restricting smoking in the outdoors, we applaud Williams for bringing up the issue. We think the time has come to increase the protections for nonsmokers in indoor settings.

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