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October 20, 1994|SUSAN STEINBERG

BEVERLY HILLS: Cigarette vending machines have gone up in a puff of smoke in Beverly Hills. This week, the city became the second on the Westside to adopt an outright ban on use of the machines for cigarette sales.

The Beverly Hills City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to join Santa Monica and 98 cities nationwide in eliminating cigarette vending machines from local stores, restaurants, bars and hotels.

City officials said they took action out of concern that the coin-operated vending machines were easily accessible to youths under 18, who are prohibited by state law from buying cigarettes.

Beverly Hills officials cited a recent survey by the Los Angeles Regional Tobacco Control Community Linkage Project that found a majority of tobacco retailers are willing to sell cigarettes over the counter and through vending machines to underage youths.

"Vending machines are the first places kids actually buy cigarettes," said Beverly Hills anti-smoking activist Dr. Trisha Roth. "Although they may not make up the biggest sales, it's where they make their first purchase."

By making it harder for children to buy cigarettes, a generation of potential smokers will be stopped, said Patrick Reynolds, an anti-smoking activist who is the grandson of tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds.

Sixty percent of all smokers begin smoking by the age of 14, said Reynolds, and 90% of all smokers become addicted by the age of 19.

It is unclear how many cigarette vending machines are in Beverly Hills because business owners are not required to report them. Beverly Hills officials said they sent notices on the pending vending machine ban to about 400 local restaurants and stores, but no one spoke in opposition to the prohibition during Tuesday's council meeting.

In 1991, Santa Monica became the second city in the state to ban the vending machines. But it has not enforced the law since a similar law enacted in Rancho Mirage came under a court challenge, Santa Monica City Councilman Kelly Olsen said. In June, however, a federal judge upheld Rancho Mirage's prohibition on cigarette vending machines, and Santa Monica plans to begin enforcing its own ordinance, Olsen said.

Elsewhere on the Westside, West Hollywood does not ban cigarette vending machines, but only allows them to be placed in bars, a city official said. Los Angeles and Culver City, meanwhile, neither restrict nor ban the machines.

SANTA MONICA: Hoping to drive homeless feeding programs indoors, the Santa Monica City Council voted this week to regulate charitable meals programs by requiring that food preparation and serving meet strict county health code standards.

The action Tuesday was the latest attempt by politically liberal Santa Monica to reconcile the nutritional needs of the city's estimated 2,000 homeless with residents' worries about the presence of large numbers of homeless people in city parks.

The new measure, supporters said, does not prohibit serving food on city parkland. But it gives homeless services a strong incentive to conduct feeding programs indoors because the county food preparation and serving standards would otherwise be difficult to meet.

Dozens of people spoke out against the measure, however, with many calling it mean-spirited and saying it would undermine aid to the homeless.

One longtime volunteer in the feeding programs, Dr. Gary Spivey, said he believed most charitable organization would not be able to meet the health code standards--indoors or outdoors--and would stop their meal programs.

"Starvation and malnutrition are bigger problems than food-borne illnesses," Spivey said.

The Los Angeles County Health and Safety codes set standards for food storage, preparation, handling and transport. They also require that food be maintained at certain temperatures and address the dating and packaging of foods for box lunches, according to the city attorney's office.

A February, 1993, city ordinance addressing the feeding of homeless people required that groups had to obtain a permit if more than 35 people gathered in a city park. A federal judge overturned that law in April, ruling that it was a violation of 1st Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, Mayor Judy Abdo cast the sole vote opposing the new food standards ordinance, commenting that some homeless people may be reluctant to eat indoor. The law is expected to take effect in late November after it receives a second reading before the council next week.

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