An organization backed by the tobacco industry filed a petition with the city Wednesday to try to force repeal of a strict anti-smoking ordinance scheduled to take effect in Long Beach this week.
Organizers of the petition drive say they have 30,000 signatures opposing the sweeping smoking prohibitions, which are among the most restrictive in the state. If the signatures are verified, the City Council would have the choice of repealing the recently adopted ordinance or placing it on the June, 1992, ballot for a public referendum.
The first phases of the ordinance, expanding no-smoking areas in restaurants, were to take effect Friday. City Clerk Shelba Powell said the city attorney's office is researching whether the ordinance should be put on hold while the signatures are verified over the next few weeks. If the council places the matter on the 1992 ballot, the ordinance would be suspended until then.
Councilman Doug Drummond said he doesn't sense a change of heart on the part of the council, which passed the anti-smoking ordinance unanimously in March.
Drummond also pointed out that letters to his office have been running at least 4 to 1 in favor of the new restrictions.
"I do believe it (the petition drive) is a mistake in tactics by the tobacco industry," Drummond said. "I believe if it goes before the voters (the smoking ban) will be overwhelmingly endorsed."
Although the pro-smoking group, Californians for Fair Business Policy, has nearly double the 16,800 signatures needed to return the matter to the council, a number of people have complained that they were misled about the petition.
City Clerk Powell said Wednesday that her office has received 89 letters from people asking to have their names removed from the petition. Some complained that they were told the petition favored a no-smoking ordinance.
Brad Hertz, a paid coordinator of the petition campaign, said the signature gatherers--who were both paid and volunteer--were told not to misrepresent the petition but may not have always fully understood what it was about.
Supported by smokers, restaurants, hotels and the tobacco industry, his organization is an offshoot of a pro-smoking group in Sacramento that has evolved into a statewide organization. Hertz said the group is a registered political action committee that receives contributions from a variety of sources, including tobacco interests.
The Long Beach ordinance has particularly angered some restaurant owners, who contend that their businesses will be crippled by a provision that would completely outlaw smoking in local restaurants as of Jan. 1, 1994.
"Our view is there's a happy medium," Hertz said. "You don't need an absolute ban."
Between now and 1994, the ordinance requires restaurants to more than double the size of their no-smoking areas--to two-thirds of their seating capacity.
It would also ban smoking at all work sites, city buildings and all common dining areas in hospitals and nursing homes. Cigarette vending machines would be barred from areas accessible to minors, as would tobacco billboard advertisements from areas near schools, parks, places of worship and child-care facilities and hospitals.