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Braude's Made a Habit of Scorching Smokers

June 03, 1993|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Slight and bespectacled, his untamed hair often standing at attention, Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude is an unlikely looking warrior.

But in the past 15 years at City Hall, he has been the political equivalent of David taking on Goliath. And on Wednesday, he once again felled the giant tobacco industry.

With Los Angeles poised to become the nation's largest city banning smoking in restaurants, Braude is on top of the world. A 72-year-old native of Chicago, Braude learned something about tenacity in the City of Big Shoulders.

With a Sisyphean stubbornness, the onetime venture capitalist made a smoke-free Los Angeles a mission--some say an obsession--long ago.

"I have always had other issues that had higher priority, namely the concerns of constituents," said Braude. "But this (ban) has always had a back-burner position. I never let it go."

Displaying a confidence that critics see as arrogance, Braude says he always knew his restaurant smoking ban would someday be approved by the council. The key, he said, was persistence.

"I made a fundamental decision 15 years ago that I had to do this incrementally," Braude said in the dry lecturing style of an economics instructor--another former profession of his. "I knew . . . we were dealing with some fundamental lifestyle changes."

So long before anyone ever heard of nicotine patches--at a time in the 1970s when Braude figures 50% or so of adults were nonsmokers--this onetime smoker began his crusade.

"At first, it had to do with the aesthetic . . . that at restaurants, you shouldn't have to spend your hard-earned money at a place with obnoxious smoke," Braude said.

"Then the medical evidence kept mounting" on the perils of smoking, he said. And soon, even the tobacco industry's resistance, he said, could not stem public opinion.

His first big victory came with the city's ban on smoking in elevators. Next, a ban in other public places such as theaters. Then a law requiring employers to set up smoke-free work areas.

And then, Wednesday's vote.

When he began, Braude said, "all the nonsmokers were in the closet, and it was socially unacceptable to complain . . . about tobacco smoke."

No longer.

"Today at least 80% of the population is nonsmoker," Braude said.

Among colleagues, Braude is often seen as grating, though even those who clash with him on specifics have regard for his commitment. Above all, they praise his stick-to-itiveness on issues as diverse as banning smoking and banning Occidental Oil from drilling in Pacific Palisades.

"Hey, you gotta hand it to Marvin. He is persistent. He never quits," said Council President John Ferraro, a well-known cigar lover who voted against the ban.

It is precisely that tenacity that has allowed Braude to come within a political whisker of realizing a smoking ban he says he always knew he could obtain.

Still, Braude says he is not celebrating yet. First, the ban faces a final council vote. Then, it goes to Mayor Tom Bradley. And if those steps are accomplished, Braude says, his dream of a smoke-free society is still just starting.

"The next step is to get the other cities in Southern California" to adopt similar bans.

Then? "I am going to go to Sacramento," Braude says.

The final stop? "Congress."

"I truly believe," he says, "that we will have a smoke-free society by the year 2000."

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