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Gone in a Huff and a a Puff : With the American people more health-conscious and the number of smoke-free public venues growing, the borders are quickly shrinking for smokers. And it's about time.

August 15, 1993|ANDREA HECHT | Andrea Hecht lives in North Hills

There's nothing new about smoke-free restaurants. Some restaurateurs saw the writing on the wall before the citywide ban went into effect two weeks ago.

Michael Ourieff, owner of Michael J's in Sherman Oaks and an owner who spoke in favor of the ban at a City Council meeting, went smokeless a year ago. He said it wasn't fair to the majority of his customers who didn't smoke, especially with one air conditioning system.

There are now benefits to Ourieff's staff, too: cleaner air to breathe and less trouble seating people in two sections.

And his business volume? It's been busy at Michael J's, with no drop-off. Ourieff, whose mother is in a nursing home with emphysema, says he wishes he had banned smoking sooner.

Ourieff is not alone in his support of the ban. Valley restaurant owners of smoke-free eateries like Islands and Johnny Rockets also back it.

So do I. I was probably 16 the first time I smoked a cigarette. I liked it so much that I was a smoker for 15 years, on and off, until I quit for good.

Today, as an adult concerned about my personal air quality and the mother of an asthmatic child, I wouldn't be caught dead with a cigarette. Nor do I fully understand the death wish smokers continue to act out.

If the issue was only that--what smokers bring on themselves--there would be little to talk about. But today's smokers aren't content with their own lung destruction. They want to puff away in the public's face without limits or complaint.

To the dismay of the shrinking 29% of the American public who still smoke, the days of the smoke-filled rooms are just about over.

And it's about time. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. says employees in smoking establishments have a 50% to 90% higher risk of lung cancer.

That study, in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency's recent classification of secondhand smoke as a class A carcinogen, gives muscle to the argument that other people's smoke not only smells bad but also is a killer.

The latest battle locally, of course, was over the Los Angeles City Council's ban on smoking in the city's nearly 7,000 restaurants. It seemed to be stalled when more than 58,000 petition signatures were collected by the Los Angeles Hospitality Coalition, a group of restaurant owners backed by the tobacco industry. But the surprise was short-lived.

Many signatures were found to be invalid, allowing the ban to go into effect immediately.

Public smoking venues are steadily disappearing. First it was movie theaters, more than 10 years ago. Then the airlines in 1988 with short flights, and again in 1990 when all domestic flights went smokeless. Next came hospitals, public buildings and nearly all offices and work sites.

As smokers see it, restaurants are the last straw. Smokers say it's a freedom-of-choice issue. Restaurant owners, who cozy up to tobacco industry money, say it's about free enterprise--the less-regulation-is-better theory.

If you don't buy any of those arguments, how about fear of economic destruction? Restaurant owners claim the smoking ban, coming on the heels of the riots and recession, will be the nail in the coffin, sending customers to other cities for dinner, dessert and a drag on a cigarette.

But where will smokers go? Pasadena? Probably not, since a smoking ban is planned for mid-September. Long Beach? The ban is slated for 1994. Calabasas? Santa Monica? Beverly Hills? West Hollywood? Bans are under study there, too. The Forum, Hollywood Bowl, Disneyland, Dodger Stadium? Sorry.

Southern California communities are joining the 56 cities and counties nationwide--49 of them in California--that are now smokeless while eating.

Like it or not, petitions or not, tantrums or not, the borders are shrinking for smokers.

It's time for L.A. smokers to grow up and accept their fate. Nonsmokers can't figure out what their crying is all about. If it's tolerable to fly five hours to New York or watch a two-hour flick without a cigarette, can't smokers adjust to waiting less than an hour in a restaurant?

Sure they can.

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