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Time for Sacramento to Join Smoking Fray : Rate of Firms Adopting Ban Shows Need for State Support

August 22, 1993

The dangers of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, or secondhand smoke, have never been more apparent. A study produced earlier this year by thS. Environmental Protection Agency, for example, classified secondhand smoke as a carcinogen that poses as great a cancer risk as asbestos, arsenic or benzene.

The EPA also said that secondhand smoke is responsible for at least 3,000 deaths from lung cancer each year among people who may have never smoked a cigarette of their own. Based on that report, the EPA now formally advises parents not to smoke around their children, and the Los Angeles County Medical Assn. is urging people to refrain from smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places.

A ban on smoking in virtually all enclosed workplaces is the eminently sensible goal of a state bill sponsored by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood). It has already passed the Assembly and a version of it is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. It is supported by the California Restaurant Assn., the California Medical Assn. and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Such a statewide ban would be preferable to a piecemeal, city by city approach. But several localities have already taken such steps or are considering stronger action. In Los Angeles, Pasadena and Long Beach, for example, the respective city councils have passed ordinances that ban smoking in restaurants.

In Santa Clarita, another effort will come before the City Council this week. Under consideration is an ordinance that would forbid smokers to light up in enclosed workplaces as well as restaurants. Bars, private residences, hotels and outdoor areas would be exempt from the ban.

The managers of four west San Fernando Valley shopping malls have also decided not to wait on the outcome of the state legislative fight. Topanga Plaza, the Northridge Fashion Center, Fallbrook Mall and the Promenade at Woodland Hills have all agreed this past week to ban smoking inside their establishments as of the first of next month.

They will join the Valley's Panorama Mall, which imposed a ban on smoking earlier this month.

This is hardly a rare and poorly considered business decision. In fact, smoking bans in enclosed shopping malls have become increasingly common around the country. The Valley malls that have decided to join their ranks appear to be following a national trend.

Just this past month, for example, Bridgewater Commons became the first shopping mall in the state of New Jersey to announce a ban on smoking, and it promptly began to convert its mall ashtrays into planters. It was beaten out on putting the ban into effect, however, by the Cherry Hill Mall in southwest New Jersey. In April, Westfarms Mall in Farmington, Conn., became the first mall in that state to ban smoking among its patrons and employees.

Opponents have argued that the smoking bans unfairly limit personal freedoms, but it is increasingly apparent that smoking is a freedom that can be particularly damaging to the health of others. No one is stopping smokers from stepping outside to light up their cigarettes.

Detractors also claim that smoking bans will invariably mean big losses in business from smokers who will simply take their spending money elsewhere. That's our worry too, and it spells out part of the reason why we favor a statewide ban if smoking is to be barred in restaurants, for example. But in recent months, health worries have been motivating many to enact their own indoor smoking bans.

Perhaps the mall managers in the Valley who are implementing a ban will send the proper message to Sacramento, which ought to get on with passing a statewide ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces.

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