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City Moves Step Closer to Tough No-Smoking Law : Ordinance: Restrictions would affect all work sites, city buildings and health-care facilities. Tobacco use in restaurants would be banned by Jan. 1, 1994.

March 21, 1991|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — The City Council, heading toward one of the strictest nonsmoking laws in the state, this week moved to impose sweeping smoking restrictions--from the executive suite to the corner coffee shop--and promised to ban it outright in every local restaurant by Jan. 1, 1994.

The city's nine councilmen--all of them nonsmokers--waved aside threats of a restaurant boycott and an almost certain backlash from the business community and gave unanimous approval to a sweeping ordinance that could make lighting up in the wrong place a misdemeanor.

The ordinance--subject to final action by the council before it becomes law--would require restaurants to more than double the size of their nonsmoking sections from one-quarter of the seating capacity required under current law to two-thirds. Smoking would be outlawed in all restaurants by the 1994 date, although it would still be permitted in bars that do not serve food and in outdoor seating areas.

The law would ban smoking in all work sites, city buildings and in all common dining areas in hospitals and health-care facilities.

Cigarette vending machines would be prohibited in areas accessible to minors, as would tobacco billboard advertisements near schools, parks, places of worship, child-care facilities and hospitals.

The law shields from retaliation anyone who demands the right to clean air, prohibiting them from being fired, denied a job or in any way punished.

Violators would be subject to a fine of at least $50, and repeat offenders could be slapped with a misdemeanor punishable by stiffer penalties and even jail time.

"We are talking about protecting the health of the majority of our people," said Councilman Clarence Smith. "The facts are there that (secondhand smoke) causes cancer, and we need to act."

Fueled by powerful statistics--79% of the public does not smoke and smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the country--Long Beach lawmakers stunned even local health officials with their anti-smoking zeal.

As originally proposed, the law would have required restaurants to merely expand their nonsmoking sections. But after nearly two hours of emotional public testimony, the council took a dramatic step and called for a complete ban.

Only the communities of Bellflower, San Luis Obispo and Lodi have gone to such lengths in the state. Beverly Hills attempted such a law, but repealed it after a public uprising. And already in Bellflower, which outlawed restaurant smoking on March 5, two of five council members who supported the idea now oppose it.

"None of us would be in business if we don't do what the customers want," Henry Meyer, owner of Hamburger Henry's on Second Street, warned, begging the council to consider a 50-50 split between smoking and nonsmoking sections.

The ever-emotional issue generated fiery debate. There was even one suggestion that smokers be made to wear plastic bubbles, and there were sour exchanges such as the following:

"If you want clean air in this city, the simple thing to do is ban the automobile," a Beverly Hills restaurant official offered.

"I don't take the exhaust from my car and run it into somebody's else's face, " Councilman Ray Grabinski shot back.

Vending-machine operators grumbled that they were being "picked on." A local tuna factory welcomed the chance to ban smoking in the workplace once and for all. An 11-day-old smokers' rights group called the city's action un-American, and the mother of an asthmatic child said it was about time.

"This is the United States of America," Long Beach smoker Richard Palmer fumed, saying the fledgling group, Smokers' Rights, was already 220 strong. "We will have (members) by the thousands. We are just starting to fight."

"Smoking adversely affects the mental function of smokers," senior activist Einar Loftesnes said matter-of-factly. "Otherwise, they would not demand the right to poison the air we breathe."

The ordinance, which must be reviewed by lawyers and scheduled for a second public reading before it becomes law, is an expansion of an anti-smoking law passed in Long Beach in 1985.

The stricter ordinance was initiated by local health officials and a tobacco control coalition, based on recent data that brands secondhand smoke a carcinogen that causes lung cancer in adults and respiratory illness in children.

The billboard and vending machine restrictions were tailored to keep children from smoking, according to health officials who say that 90% of all smokers begin by the age of 19.

While the ordinance provides for potentially stiff penalties, the law's intent is as much to protect smokers by encouraging them to quit, officials said.

"I am not anti-smoker," Councilman Wallace Edgerton asserted. "We all have friends who are smokers. They are good people. They are no different than the rest of us . . . they just happen to be addicted to a very, very deadly habit."

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