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City Weighs Options to Enforce Anti-Smoking Ordinance : Health: A smokers' rights petition drive could put the law on hold pending an April vote. But some officials are looking at ways to put the law--or one similar to it--into effect now.

September 02, 1993|EMILY ADAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Confronted with petitions that could force an election on the city's smoking ban, city leaders are considering new tactics to stop the drift of secondhand smoke.

Among the options is making substantial changes to the anti-smoking ordinance, which could force petitioners to gather signatures all over again, Councilman Evan Anderson Braude said.

The City Council passed the ordinance July 27 by an 8-0 vote to ban smoking in restaurants, cafeterias, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, hair salons, hotel lobbies and other public places. Two-thirds of the seating in outdoor eating areas and bars would have been reserved for nonsmokers.

Before the ordinance could go into effect, however, a smokers' rights group gathered 31,790 signatures on petitions calling for a citywide vote on the issue. The effort effectively put the law on hold until an election in April.

"I just don't think we want another six months of an ongoing health hazard," Braude said. "And that's exactly what secondhand smoke is."

The county registrar's office must validate at least 18,149 of those signatures before the referendum can be qualified for the ballot. The office has until Oct. 11 to verify the signatures.

If the petitions have enough valid signatures, the City Council has the option of simply putting the issue on the April 12 municipal ballot.

But Braude has a few other ideas.

"Sure, we could vote in April," Braude said. "But we could also pass an interim ordinance that would ban smoking until the vote. We could also repeal the ordinance and create a new one--either more lenient or one that's more stringent."

If the ordinance is changed substantially, the smokers' rights group Long Beach Business and Convention Coalition would have to begin a new petition campaign to challenge the new ordinance.

The coalition, sponsored by restaurants, bars and tobacco manufacturers, has been unavailable for comment throughout the petition drive.

Alan Henderson, chairman of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Long Beach and a professor of health sciences at Cal State Long Beach, said his group is very much in favor of an interim ordinance banning tobacco smoke until April. "In six months, another 45 people could die due to the cumulative effects of secondhand smoke," he said.

According to Henderson, studies show that about 91 people die every year in a city the size of Long Beach because of secondhand smoke. And while nothing can really be done for the people who are dying now from years of exposure, he said, there is enough evidence to prove that cutting back on drifting tobacco smoke would alleviate health hazards.

Henderson said his group also supports changing the ordinance--basically, creating a new law--to phase out smoking in public entirely by January, 1995.

When the City Council passed its first anti-smoking ordinance in 1991, it outlawed puffing in municipal buildings and most private offices and would have phased out smoking in restaurants by January, 1994.

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After a successful petition drive demanding that that ordinance be put on a ballot, however, the council decided against a costly election. It removed any reference to phasing out smoking in restaurants.

Many restaurant owners and other business leaders have said they hope the entire issue will be taken out of the city's hands. "The state Legislature is considering a smoking ban right now and, as far as I'm concerned, that's where the whole issue should be decided," Chamber of Commerce President Randal Hernandez said.

Two pieces of legislation that would regulate smoking statewide were introduced. However, a sweeping bill that would have prohibited smoking at nearly all indoor workplaces in California was dealt an apparently fatal blow in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Although it had been passed by the Assembly, the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood) was shunted away from a vote amid clear indications that it would be defeated. Another far more permissive bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. (D-Inglewood), was withdrawn from consideration but may be resubmitted in January.

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