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Debate Over Smoking Ban in Restaurants Heats Up Again : Health: Councilman's proposal toughens existing measure, would bar lighting up in all enclosed public places citywide. Residents' reactions at hearing are mixed.

July 01, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Fletcher Rainer, a smoker for 30 years, was fuming over a new proposal to ban smoking in restaurants, cafeterias and other enclosed public places throughout Long Beach.

"You want me to feel like a common criminal," Rainer, of Long Beach, told the City Council this week. "You want me to feel like a second-class citizen . . . all because I'm a smoker."

But as far as Sue Baker is concerned, exposing others to secondhand smoke is a crime.

"The current ordinance does not protect us in restaurants," said Baker, who is pregnant and lives in Long Beach. "The pregnant people, the babies are not protected."

The testimony came Tuesday after Councilman Evan Anderson Braude introduced a proposal to toughen the city's 2-year-old anti-smoking ordinance. The current ordinance bans smoking in municipal buildings and in most private offices, but it allows smoking in restaurants and other public places. Violators are subject to a minimum fine of $50.

Under Braude's proposal, restaurants, cafeterias, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, hair salons, hotel lobbies and other public places would be smoke-free zones as well.

The City Council referred the proposal to its Legislative Committee--composed of three council members--for further review. The matter is expected to come before the full council in a month or so. Braude had wanted quicker City Council action, but he did not see the delay as a major setback. He said he still expects the council, composed of nonsmokers, to approve all or most of his proposal.

"I see us moving in the right direction," said Braude, who added he was concerned about the health of restaurant workers and other employees who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

The measure is a throwback to an anti-smoking ordinance that won unanimous approval from the City Council in spring 1991. It would have outlawed smoking in restaurants as of Jan. 1, 1994.

Restaurant owners said their businesses would be doused, and smokers said they were being deprived of their rights.

But the law never had a chance to take effect. An organization backed by the tobacco industry collected 30,000 signatures opposing the smoking prohibitions.

Facing a costly referendum, the City Council decided to replace the ordinance with a less restrictive version. That weaker ordinance remains in effect.

The proposed ordinance would not only ban smoking in restaurants, it would require outdoor restaurants and bars to reserve 75% of their area for nonsmokers.

The debate on Tuesday resembled the debate of 1991.

A man who said he started smoking at age 10 argued that preventing him from smoking in a restaurant would violate his civil rights.

A woman, who said she suffered from asthma, said anything less would abridged her freedom to enjoy good health.

The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Long Beach, a group of community leaders and residents, is backing the proposal.

"This is a serious public health issue," said Alan Henderson, health science professor at Cal State Long Beach and chairman of the coalition.

Several restaurant owners and the president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce said the ban would hurt business, especially in a poor economic climate, and urged the council not to take action.

They said Long Beach restaurants would be at a disadvantage competing with restaurants in neighboring cities without anti-smoking ordinances.

"This is an issue that should be handled at the state level," said Chamber President Randal Hernandez. "That way you have a level playing field."

Two bills, in fact, are pending in the state Legislature that would preempt some local ordinances.

One would ban smoking in all indoor work places, including restaurants, while the other would allow owners to designate smoking sections in their restaurants.

Citing the health effects of secondhand smoke, 56 cities and counties nationwide have banned smoking in restaurants. Forty-nine of those are in California.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council approved an anti-smoking ordinance that takes effect later this month, banning smoking in restaurants.

Braude said the Los Angeles council action had no influence on his proposal. "I had this ready a month ago," he said.

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