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Stronger Law Against Smoking Nears Final Approval : Health: Amid concerns about the effects of secondhand smoke, the City Council votes 8-0 to prohibit smoking in restaurants and restrict it in other places.

July 22, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — The City Council has decided to toughen Long Beach's anti-smoking ordinance, banning smoking in restaurants and requiring that two-thirds of the seating in bars and outdoor eating areas be reserved for nonsmokers.

The council, none of whom smoke, voted 8 to 0 in favor of the measure Tuesday and is expected to give final approval at its meeting next week. The ordinance, which requires a minimum $50 fine for violations, would take effect 30 days later.

The city's 2-year-old anti-smoking ordinance bans puffing in municipal buildings and in most private offices, but it allows smoking in restaurants and other public places.

The new city law is a compromise of what was initially proposed by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Long Beach, a group of community leaders and residents. Councilman Evan Anderson Braude championed the measure before the City Council.

The original proposal would have banned smoking not only in indoor restaurants but in bars and outdoor eating areas. "The most reasonable thing to do would have been to make it zero" given recent evidence that secondhand smoke is a potent carcinogen, said Alan Henderson, health science professor at Cal State Long Beach and chairman of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Long Beach. "But I'm also not a believer in just dropping the ax."

Said Braude: "We still come away with one of the most progressive ordinances in the state of California."

Under the ordinance, cafeterias, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, hair salons, hotel lobbies and other public places would be smoke-free zones.

The ordinance would also ban cigarette vending machines in areas open to people under the age of 21.

Councilman Douglas S. Drummond was on vacation and missed Tuesday's vote. But a letter submitted by his staff said the councilman favored setting aside 25% of restaurant areas for smokers.

Drummond feared a smoking ban would hurt Long Beach's convention business because smokers from other countries might choose to avoid a city where they could not smoke freely.

Much of the two hours of testimony focused on the financial impact of the tougher restrictions.

A spokesman for the Hof's Hut restaurant chain said the new restrictions would hurt business by banning smoking in the restaurants' cocktail sections, which serve food. Hof's Hut has four restaurants in Long Beach, including two with cocktail sections.

"We're fearful that the surrounding communities do not have similar smoking restrictions . . . and we will become uncompetitive," said spokesman Tim Cameron.

Long Beach Chamber of Commerce spokesman Ira Glasky urged the council to hold off because the Legislature may soon set a statewide policy.

"This patchwork approach is causing a loss of competitiveness," Glasky said.

But that position was contradicted by restaurateurs who have voluntarily banned smoking in their eateries.

The chief executive officer of the Johnny Rockets restaurant chain, which was founded in 1986, said a no-smoking policy has not kept his business from flourishing and expanding to 48 restaurants, one of which is in Long Beach.

"I was told it would be a blueprint for disaster if I opened smoke-free restaurants," Ronn Teitelbaum said.

He also noted that business in the chain's restaurant in Japan, a bastion of smoking, has not been hurt.

Braude said he supported the 100% ban proposed by the coalition, but he could not win the support of four other council members.

Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord--whose late husband was a smoker who died of lung and throat cancer--fashioned the compromise.

"The rights of both sides need to be respected and addressed," Topsy-Elvord said.

The council indicated it will reconsider the tougher ordinance within 18 months, after businesses have a chance to see how the new restrictions affect them.

The new measure is similar 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.

But the law never took 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 the weaker version. Braude said it was time to try again to make the law tougher.

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

Los Angeles' anti-smoking ordinance that takes effect next month will ban smoking in restaurants, but will permit it in outdoor eating areas and bars.

The state Legislature may preempt all of the local ordinances.

One pending bill would impose limits on most indoor work places, including restaurants, while the other would allow owners to designate smoking sections in their restaurants.

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