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Restaurant Owners, Business Leaders Try to Snuff Smoking Ban


The impending smoking ban in city restaurants is worrying a number of restaurant owners and business leaders in central Los Angeles, where smokers are heavily represented among the predominantly minority population and foreign tourists.

Daniel Oh and Frank Holoman, restaurant owners in the central city, are among those leading a petition drive to let voters decide whether there should be a ban. On Friday, the Los Angeles Hospitality Coalition, which includes restaurants and hotels, announced it had gathered about 95,000 signatures in favor of repealing the ban, 36,725 more than needed to place the measure on a future ballot.

The City Council approved the ban June 23, and it would have taken effect Saturday had the signatures not been gathered. If the city clerk verifies there are at least 58,275 valid signatures, the ban will be delayed until voters consider the matter, perhaps as early as November.

"This kind of regulation will badly affect the Korean community," predicted Chull Huh, secretary general of the Korean-American Chamber of Commerce. "The restaurant business is very bad these days and we worry that people will stay away because of the ban."

Many Korean-Americans are smokers; according to a 1990 study of the Korean-American community by Eui-Young Yu, a Cal State Los Angeles professor, 37% of men and 20% of women smoke.

Restaurants with a large African-American clientele also worry that they will feel the pinch of a smoking ban. In Los Angeles County, the percentage of African-American smokers exceeds that of other ethnic groups, according to a 1990 study by the state Department of Health Services and UC San Diego.

Frank Holoman, owner of the Boulevard Cafe on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, predicted the ban would cost him business. "Some people, when they eat, that's when they want to smoke," Holoman said. "If they can't do it here, they'll just go to Inglewood or Santa Monica or fix dinner at home."

Although tobacco industry representatives and some restaurant owners think that the ban will cost eateries significant revenue, others disagree.

A few pioneering central Los Angeles restaurants have already gone smoke-free with some success, and a report by the City Council's chief legislative analyst found evidence to contradict claims of huge business losses in cities with smoking bans.

"It is not possible to project with any degree of certainty exactly what the overall economic consequences of a smoking prohibition will be in Los Angeles," the report said. "However, based on a review of the economic studies . . . it can be argued that any effect on public sector revenues or private business activities will be negligible."

Ed Vasquez, communications director of the Latin Business Assn., said restaurant owners shouldn't worry.

"The amount of business lost by excluding smoking," he said, "would be minimal compared with the overall costs associated with smoking," including medical problems and increasing health insurance costs.

Orlando Ramirez, manager of El Paseo Inn on Olvera Street, isn't concerned the ban will hurt his business either, even though most of his customers smoke. "I don't think people will stop eating here," he said.

Oh, general manager of the largely smoke-free Ham Hung Restaurant on Ardmore Avenue, said he likes the idea of a smoking ban, but collected petitions against it on behalf of his association. "I'm all for cutting down on smoking, but don't regulate it," Oh said.

"If customers want a smoke-free restaurant, we'll provide it. But the customer is supposed to be king."

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