LAKEWOOD — Rhonda Tiday took a deep drag on her cigarette before she launched into a defense of her right to smoke in public.
"I'm not putting a cigarette into somebody's nose and saying, 'Here, smoke this,' " Tiday said as she watched her young son on one of the Lakewood Center Mall's kiddie rides.
But her close friend, Nikki Harrell, jumped into the conversation with the nonsmoker's rebuttal: "If I don't smoke, I feel like why should I have my air violated?"
The disagreement between the two young mothers is typical of the philosophical battle between smokers and nonsmokers as an increasing number of anti-smoking regulations appear on law books.
Lakewood, which is considering joining the ranks of Southland cities that have passed no-smoking ordinances, is striving to satisfy both sides of the smoking debate by taking a "middle-of-the-road approach," Mayor Jacqueline Rynerson said.
Next week, the council will introduce a no-smoking ordinance that has garnered the support of local business owners. It would allow them to choose a smoking restriction that best suits their establishment--or to reject one altogether.
By considering an ordinance that would limit smoking only on city-owned property, the council hopes to avoid some of the bitter debates that have erupted over tough no-smoking ordinances in other cities, Lakewood officials say.
Under the proposed new law, all owners of commercial, public, educational and religious buildings would be required to post one of three signs indicating the establishment's smoking policy: no smoking, smoking in designated areas only or smoking allowed.
"We believe it will satisfy everyone," Rynerson said.
Councilman Larry Van Nostrum agreed. "I think the ordinance is fine. It's an ordinance we can all live with," he said.
The relatively mild Lakewood ordinance was drafted despite evidence that an overwhelming majority of Lakewood residents are nonsmokers who favor mandatory no-smoking areas in retail stores, restaurants and the workplace.
During a recent study session, local business owners praised the proposed law "because you leave it to the business to decide," businessman Charles Hallums said. Hallums is a spokesman for the Lakewood Center Merchants Assn.
But the proposed ordinance was criticized by some because it falls short of ordering designated smoking areas for businesses, even though it states that "nonsmokers should have a right to be free from exposure to second-hand smoke from those who use tobacco."
Councilman Robert Wagner said the city should establish stricter guidelines for public smoking. "The expectation is (business owners) will respond in some reasonable fashion" to provide nonsmoking areas for nonsmokers, Wagner said during the study session. "Suppose they don't do that?"
In a later interview, Wagner struck a more optimistic note, saying that he would "like to presume businesses and employers will view this (ordinance) as the excuse to take action, whereas before, they may have been hesitant. I hope they also will respond to the pressures that are already being exerted by employees who would like to have smoke-free environments."
In a telephone interview last week, Van Nostrum said other cities' stronger anti-smoking measures have fueled controversy over government's right to impose restrictions on a private enterprise. "Sometimes we politicians have a tendency to put too many regulations on people," Van Nostrum said.
Other Cities More Strict
Tougher no-smoking ordinances in cities such as Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and nearby Long Beach require restaurants to establish no-smoking sections, for example. Some ordinances restrict smoking in the workplace, while others ban smoking in hospitals and other health institutions.
Sandi Ruyle, assistant to the Lakewood city administrator, said the proposed ordinance would ban smoking in all city facilities, except in designated areas. Ruyle helped prepare the draft ordinance with City Atty. John S. Todd. "I think it's pretty strong in that regard," Ruyle said. "It was the council's decision to set up a model to restrict smoking" in indoor city facilities.
There are exceptions. Smoking would be allowed in city-owned vehicles if all passengers approve, in single offices in which the occupant is a smoker, and in a work area where a supervisor determines that "location and ventilation will be the least offensive to other employees and the public."
She said Lakewood's proposed no-smoking ordinance also would require "every business in town" to post the signs, which the city will provide free. "Every business in Lakewood will be affected," Ruyle said.