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L.A. Restaurant Smoking Ban OKd : Health: Approval is preliminary, with final action expected next week. The surprise 8-6 vote rejects arguments that restaurant industry would suffer.

June 03, 1993|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After years of debate and compromise, the Los Angeles City Council surprised even its most ardent anti-smoking advocate by giving preliminary approval Wednesday to a hard-line proposal that would ban smoking in the city's nearly 7,000 eateries.

If the law receives final approval, Los Angeles would become the largest city in the nation to prohibit smoking in restaurants.

Rejecting arguments that the ban would damage an already depressed restaurant industry, the council voted 8 to 6 to stop smoking in all of the city's indoor dining spots.

The proposal must return, probably next week, for final approval before it becomes law. But the ban's sponsor, Councilman Marvin Braude, said he is confident that his 15-year crusade to curtail smoking in public places has finally reached fruition.

"I feel exhilarated!" exclaimed the normally taciturn Braude, a health advocate who eats sunflower seeds in the City Council chambers. "I think it's important for Los Angeles to be the leader for good health and public safety."

The law includes a few exemptions. It would permit smoking in outdoor eating areas, at private functions and at bars. The measure would take effect 30 days after its final approval.

The action came a day after the state Assembly balked at approving two measures to limit smoking--including one that would stop smoking in all indoor workplaces. Both measures are scheduled to return to the Assembly floor today.

The Los Angeles law continues a growing trend--particularly in California. A total of 56 cities and counties nationally, 49 of them in California, have banned smoking in restaurants.

"It's an extremely important action. This is the second-largest city in the United States," said Mark Pertschuk, co-director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. "Other communities and even other countries will look at Los Angeles. We consider it very exciting."

Braude, 72, has raised the smoking issue at every turn and succeeded in stopping the practice in elevators, markets and city offices. He also won limitations on smoking in restaurants--forcing owners to set aside at least half their floor space for those who do not light up.

But twice in the last 2 1/2 years he failed in efforts to push an outright ban on restaurant smoking through the council. The most recent loss came a little more than a year ago, after intensive lobbying by the Tobacco Institute and the 3,000-member California Restaurant Assn. Hundreds of restaurant workers, some wielding baguettes, hissed and booed Braude when he vowed to press on.

With opposition still fervent, Wednesday's victory surprised the veteran councilman. Braude had prepared a compromise that would have enacted the ban only if several neighboring cities also prohibited restaurant smoking. That plan was designed to ensure that Los Angeles dining spots would remain competitive with establishments in Santa Monica, Pasadena and other nearby cities.

The council rejected Braude's compromise by a 7-7 vote before accepting the outright smoking ban.

Councilman Mike Hernandez, the only smoker among the 15 lawmakers, switched his vote to provide the margin needed for preliminary approval.

"I said, 'If we are going to do this, let's lead and support a ban,' " said Hernandez, a pack-a-day smoker. "I took offense at using certain other cities to implement the ordinance."

Hernandez noted that the compromise would have been linked to actions in only a few, mostly Westside cities and not other, less-wealthy communities that border Los Angeles.

Braude and Hernandez were joined by council members Joy Picus, Ruth Galanter, Zev Yaroslavsky, Joel Wachs, Rita Walters and Mark Ridley-Thomas in voting for the ban. Councilman Michael Woo, who is running for mayor, voted against the ban because of concerns it could hurt business. Also voting against the measure were Richard Alatorre, Ernani Bernardi, Hal Bernson, Nate Holden and John Ferraro. Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores was absent.

Nearly two-thirds of Los Angeles residents support the idea of banning all smoking in the city's restaurants, according to a recent Times poll. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed generally were in favor of such a ban, while only 33% opposed the idea. Fifty-three percent were strongly in favor.

Wednesday's hourlong discussion opened with an emotional plea from Braude. "Los Angeles should be the health capital of the world," said Braude, who regularly bicycles along the beach. "That is our reputation--that we are at the forefront of healthy, good life."

A representative of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn. said that so-called environmental smoke is responsible for the deaths of about 50,000 Americans a year. Dr. Debra R. Judelson said restaurant workers are particularly afflicted by secondhand fumes. One study found that waitresses have the highest mortality rate of any occupational group in the state, Judelson said.

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