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Taco Bell, Joining Growing List of Fast-Food Chains, Will Ban Smoking

March 15, 1994|JAMES S. GRANELLI and SUSAN CHRISTIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Taco Bell Corp. said Monday that it will ban smoking at its company-owned restaurants and that most of its franchisees are expected to follow suit, giving the Mexican-style fast-food chain the largest number of smoke-free outlets in the nation.

The Irvine-based company said it will snuff out cigarettes, cigars and pipes at its 3,300 company locations nationwide on March 28 and that at least 1,000 franchisees also will ban smoking.

Taco Bell's action follows similar steps taken by other fast-food chains, including No. 1 McDonald's Corp., as the effects of secondhand smoke--especially on children--are being scrutinized more closely at local and federal levels.

McDonald's said three weeks ago that it will ban smoking in its 1,400 company-owned outlets, but a spokeswoman said Monday that no franchisees have yet adopted the company's policy. The Carl's Jr. and Chuck E. Cheese chains banned smoking in company-owned eateries two years ago. And Arby's and Dairy Queen announced plans earlier this year to eliminate smoking at company-owned units.

U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders on Monday praised Taco Bell, McDonald's and other smoke-free chains for "taking this stand for our children, who cannot decide their own environment," she said.

Last month, the Texas attorney general sued Taco Bell, McDonald's and three other major chains, alleging that they endangered the health of patrons, particularly children, by exposing them to secondhand smoke.

It was not clear Monday what effect Taco Bell's action will have on the suit, and spokeswoman Janis Smith said the company's decision to ban smoking is not related to it. "This is something we've looked at a long time and something our customers want."

A yearlong survey by an independent firm showed that 70% of Taco Bell customers who smoked and 84% of customers who didn't favored smoke-free fast-food establishments, Smith said.

Industry observers say that smoking bans are less risky for fast-food chains than sit-down restaurants.

"I think smoking bans will have virtually no effect on fast-food restaurants," said Michael Mueller, a restaurant analyst with Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. "You wait in line, you eat, you go."

But a spokesman for a tobacco industry trade association said fast-food chains can't ignore smokers.

"Taco Bell's decision potentially alienates up to 30% or more of its customer base," said Thomas Lauria of the Tobacco Institute.

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