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Smoke Signals: When to Yield, Where to Go

August 22, 1991|CAROLINE LEMKE

Remember when smoking a cigarette on a bus or an airplane did not necessarily mean you were a felon? When lighting up at work didn't involve leaving your desk, or the building? When smoking a cigarette at a party did not entail huddling with other smokers out on the fire escape?

Except in a bar, smoking in public has become a perilous pastime. Long gone is the innocent age when smoking was not only acceptable but considered glamorous.

There is no denying the statistics that smoking causes more than 450,000 deaths each year. Another figure from the Center for Disease Control, more alarming to many, is that environmental tobacco smoke, or secondhand smoke, causes 53,000 deaths in nonsmoking persons in the United States each year.

Reaction to this last figure has produced, in the past decade, a flurry of smoking ordinances, all designed to provide a healthy environment for everyone.

With few alterations, all North County cities have adopted the smoking ordinance passed by San Diego County. Unincorporated communities, such as Bonsall, Fallbrook and Valley Center, also adhere to the county's smoking ordinance.

Smokers have to hunt for a place where they can light up without fear of reproach--publicly and privately. Many smokers even have had to negotiate at-home smoking policies.

Knowing when, where and where not to smoke almost requires a score card. Sometimes the plethora of no smoking signs doesn't clear the air.

For instance, six days out of seven, it is OK to smoke anywhere, anytime on the premises of the Comedy Nite club in Oceanside, but you will be ever so politely encouraged to stub your butt if you try to light up on a Tuesday during the smoke-free showcase.

At Leo's Little Bit O' Country night club in San Marcos, where about 70% of the patrons are smokers, cigarette smoking is permitted throughout the premises. However, by some tacit agreement, all the smokers head for the outdoor patio when they want to feel the bronchial clutch that only an unfiltered Camel will bring.

The following restrictions apply to all of the cities in North County as well as areas governed by the county.


In eateries with more than 20 seats, an "adequate" amount of seating capacity sufficient to meet the demands of its nonsmoking patrons must be designated.

Restaurateurs with fewer than 20 seats have the option of making their establishment completely smoke-free, designating a nonsmoking section or allowing smoking throughout the premises.

In the unincorporated county areas, 50% of restaurant seating must be provided for nonsmokers. This rule does not apply to establishments with fewer than 20 seats.

Most city smoking ordinances require that restaurants provide a physical barrier to separate smoking and nonsmoking sections. However, restaurants are not required to have separate ventilating systems for the two sections.

Signs indicating that smoking is allowed only in designated areas must be posted at the entrance or inside the restaurant. The restaurant is also responsible for letting customers know if they have a nonsmoking section.

Even those traditional smoky dens--coffee houses--have, for the most part, gone the way of the smoke-free zone.

If Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were to resurrect and take a tour of some of the North County coffee houses, they wouldn't recognize the atmosphere through all the clear air. Metaphor Coffee House in Escondido is one of the few places that allows smoking indoors.

"We have an art gallery and a performance area in the back that is nonsmoking, but that is to protect the art work," said entertainment director David Howard. "We allow smoking in the front and there is no door separating the two areas."

Howard said the only smoke not allowed is cigars and clove cigarettes because of their heavy aroma. About 50% of the coffee house's customers smoke, and there have been no problems.

"We've got smokers tolerating nonsmokers and nonsmokers tolerating smokers. What are you going to do?" Howard asked jokingly. "Most of our smokers are courteous enough that they get out of the way if they see their smoke is intruding on someone's space."


Smoking is not allowed in any city or county government-owned building.

Kathy Greene, an employee of the city clerk's office in Encinitas and a smoker, says that not being able to smoke at City Hall has not presented a hardship for her. City Hall has been smoke-free for more than two years now, and Greene and other smokers have their cigarettes in designated outside areas equipped with ashtrays.

"I understand that people hate smoking," Greene said. "I don't like working in a smelly place and I smoke outside, it doesn't bother me. I don't even smoke in my house because I don't like the smell."

Greene said she smokes on her lunch hour. She's generally too busy during the day to take time out for a smoke break.


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