SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The City Council on Tuesday tentatively voted to ban smoking in most public, indoor places throughout the city.
Bars and nightclubs are exempted, but all restaurants with an indoor seating capacity of 50 or more people must designate 75% of their space for nonsmokers once the ordinance goes into effect.
Also affected will be all retail stores, public restrooms, health care facilities and meeting rooms. The ordinance also gives any employee the right to a nonsmoking work area on request, and requires all employers with three or more employees to maintain a written smoking policy prohibiting smoking in public areas of their businesses.
"I hate smoking," Mayor Kenneth E. Friess said earlier Tuesday. "I'm extremely allergic to it.
"Today, something like 75% of people nationwide don't smoke. It doesn't seem reasonable that those of us who don't smoke have to continually deal with the 25% who don't care about their bodies."
The unanimous council vote came in spite of pleas from representatives of a downtown merchants group that they be allowed to police smoking in their businesses themselves. Most of them already have posted no-smoking signs, said David Swerdlin, owner of Mission Photography, a former pack-a-day smoker for 20 years.
"We are aware of the hazards of secondhand smoke and most of us were smokers at one time," said Swerdlin, representing the Downtown Merchants Assn. "But we would rather decide for ourselves and not have the decision come down from the top."
Others are afraid a law like this could cause them to lose business in an already tough financial time, Swerdlin said.
"It's an economic issue for us more than anything," he said. "Small businessmen need every edge we can get, and (this) could put us at a disadvantage."
But smoking laws have not been shown to damage business, said Joan Hogan, coordinator for the League of California Cities' California Smoke Free Cities project.
"There is no evidence these laws ever hurt anyone's business," Hogan said. "Most people now don't smoke. The figures now show that over 80% of adult Californians are nonsmokers."
Of the 463 cities in the state, 244 have some kind of smoking regulations, Hogan said.
San Juan Capistrano's new ordinance will be one of the strongest in Orange County, said Marilyn Cowan, program manager for the County Health Care Agency's Tobacco Use Prevention Program. But the toughest anti-smoking laws are found in San Luis Obispo, Walnut Creek and Sacramento, where smoking is completely banned in all restaurants, she said.
"San Luis Obispo is the only city in the state that has added a ban against smoking in bars too," Hogan said. "But that is now being considered in many other places."
The council will have a second hearing on the proposed ordinance in two weeks. Barring any move to reconsider Monday's vote, the ban could become law by Oct. 31.