BELLFLOWER — At least two times a week, Gene Tummolo and Howard Murrow head over to Ricci's Italian Deli and Restaurant on Bellflower Boulevard and take a seat in the darkened restaurant at the rear of the meat counter where owner Lou Galasso and his son, Michael, take orders.
The businessmen order the special of the day, joke around with Lou's wife, Myrna, who waits tables, and bemoan the latest national crisis. After lunch, if the coffee is freshly brewed, they order it black, and then Tummolo lights up a Newport menthol and lets his meal settle.
That is the way it has been for the last two years, but this week the City Council passed one of the strictest anti-smoking ordinances in Los Angeles County, and whether Tummolo and his fellow smokers like it or not, habits are about to change.
The council, citing its concern with the effects of secondhand smoke on nonsmokers, on Monday voted unanimously to ban smoking in all of the city's restaurants and in almost every enclosed space that is open to the public.
Council member John Ansdell called smoking "slow poison," and fellow council members, none of whom now smoke, labeled the habit "disgusting."
The Environmental Protection Agency recently listed secondhand smoke as a Class-A carcinogen, the agency's top category for cancer-causing agents.
The council's decision was met with immediate criticism from Ricci's Galasso and the few residents who attended the meeting. Most called it an infringement on their personal rights. Restaurant owners said they felt that good customers would simply go to neighboring cities where such bans do not exist and where they can eat lunch and smoke in peace.
"I seriously feel that if we did have nonsmoking (in restaurants) it would hurt business," Galasso told the council. "Cerritos and Lakewood have a lot of real nice restaurants. I don't see why Bellflower is doing this when all the other communities aren't."
"Maybe this is a time for Bellflower to be a leader," Mayor Randy Bomgaars told Galasso.
In addition to the ban on cigarette smoking in restaurants, the City Council also mandated that hotel and motel owners set aside 10% of their rooms for nonsmokers. The ordinance, which is expected to receive final approval by the council in January, also mandates that smoking be prohibited in public areas of galleries, libraries, museums, video arcades and meeting rooms open to the public, among other places.
Employers are required to designate smoking areas in employee work areas, and ban it in auditoriums, classrooms and elevators.
Bars, tobacco stores, malls, private offices, private residences and places of religious worship have been exempted from the law, which is expected to go into effect in February.
The city of Beverly Hills three years ago passed a similar ordinance. It created such an uproar among restaurant owners that the City Council there was forced to rescind the ordinance 30 days after it was passed, said Jan Bear, a Beverly Hills senior plan review engineer.
More recently, the Los Angeles City Council considered banning cigarette smoking at all of the city's restaurants, but instead decided to explore the option of requiring installation of partitions and ventilation systems to protect nonsmokers.
No other Southeast area city council has passed an anti-smoking ordinance that is as strict as Bellflower's, and most have no smoking ordinances at all. The reaction among Commerce city officials to strict no-smoking laws was typical of many:
"I don't anticipate our council ever considering the issue," Commerce City Clerk Linda Olivieri said. "It's the feeling here that the council is not a censuring body."
The Bellflower City Council was expected to mandate that restaurants set aside 80% of their seating for nonsmokers, but during the meeting Monday, council members decided to "go 100%" and ban smoking in restaurants altogether.
"This is a health issue that overrides personal liberties and profits," said Councilman Joseph E. Cvetko, who said he believes that smoking is not only unhealthy, but "disgusting" as well. "It's like spitting on people with a stink cloud," he said.
Paul Benjamin, president of the Bellflower Chamber of Commerce, said that ever since the city staff wrote letters to all the business owners who would be affected, he has received many complaints from those who feel such an ordinance will hurt business in the city.
"Bellflower is supported by sales tax," Benjamin said after the meeting. "My main concern is the message that the city is sending to businesses. Are we moving to assist our business community or to hinder it? If businesses lose money because of this, the city may have cut off the hand that feeds it."
Benjamin and others said they felt that the decision on banning smoking should be left up to the business owners.