On New Year's Day, one of the nation's toughest anti-smoking laws takes effect in California. Lighting up will be banned in most enclosed workplaces and virtually all restaurants.
While health groups and others have praised the ban as a victory in the fight against the dangers of secondhand smoke, some business groups say the new statute is vague and will give employers headaches. And it is not universally popular.
"I prefer offering a choice," said Craig Gilbert, manager of Antonello Ristorante in Santa Ana, which has separate dining rooms for smokers and nonsmokers. "A lot of our clientele enjoys smoking. Maybe now they'll just have to go outside to smoke."
The new law will have a greater effect in many suburban and rural areas of Southern California than in Los Angeles. The city already requires restaurants to be free of smoke. Suburban and rural areas generally have not been as aggressive in prohibiting smoking in restaurants and other public places.
The new state law will apply in all cities except those that have stricter ordinances. Smoking will be allowed in bars, including those in restaurants, but only until Jan. 1, 1997. And new federal or state clean-air regulations could move up that compliance date.
That uncertainty and other aspects of the new law are troubling to some business operators.
Bob Reeves, director of industrial safety and health at the California Chamber of Commerce, said the law requires employers to post "clear and prominent" no-smoking signs, "but it gives no requirements on signage."
The California Department of Health Services, which lobbied for passage of the law, said the state is working with local governments to educate employers about the new requirements, including details such as signs.
"There's an enthusiasm in California for smoke-free work sites," said Colleen Stevens, an analyst with the health department in Sacramento.
She said California's law is the strongest of its kind in the United States.
Besides bars, other places exempted from the ban are gaming clubs, cabs of trucks, most rooms and lobby areas in hotels, large warehouses in which 20 or fewer employees work, and businesses that employ five or fewer workers who all agree to allow smoking and where minors are not allowed.
The restaurant industry, however, has been at the center of the debate over smoking and will probably feel the broadest and most costly impact from the law, which Gov. Pete Wilson signed in July.
Whether voluntarily or because of local ordinances, more and more workplaces in the state have banned smoking in recent years. Many restaurant operators, to avoid losing customers, have maintained smoking areas whenever they could.
The California Restaurant Assn. said it supported the no-smoking legislation largely because it felt that a uniform ordinance would put all restaurants on equal competitive footing.
"Hopefully, the playing field will be leveled," said Stan Kyker, the association's executive vice president.
For example, when Sacramento enacted a workplace and restaurant smoking ban about two years ago, "we clearly lost business to two similar coffee shops just two blocks away outside the city limit," said a senior executive at Family Restaurants Inc., the Irvine company that operates 200 Coco's and Carrows in California.
"Now you don't have to go two blocks away," said the executive, who asked not to be identified.
But the new law, he said, could cost the company business anyway if smokers decide to eat out less often because they can't light up in a restaurant.
Kyker of the restaurant association said that probably won't happen on a large scale, because most people have become accustomed to smoking bans.
As of June, 72 cities in California had laws specifying that workplaces must be 100% smoke-free, and 91 cities had ordinances prohibiting smoking in restaurants, according to California Smoke-Free Cities, a nonprofit group based in Sacramento.
In Los Angeles County, Pasadena, Long Beach and Santa Monica are among the cities that already prohibit smoking in restaurants, workplaces or both.
Several cities in Orange County, including Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Hills, prohibit smoking in restaurants, but none has such an ordinance for the workplace.
Orange County's largest cities, Anaheim and Santa Ana included, do not have 100% smoking bans for restaurants, according to the June report.
Enforcement of the statewide ban is expected to be handled by local law agencies or health departments.
First-time violators will be fined $100; repeat offenders may be fined up to $500.
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Where You Can Still Smoke
Beginning Sunday, state law prohibits smoking in most enclosed workplaces in California. An enclosed workplace can be broadly defined as any place of employment, including offices and restaurants, that has four walls and a ceiling. The following places are specifically excluded from AB 13 but may be regulated by local governments: