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Smoking Ban Foe Mounts Offensive

Legislation: Assemblyman Vincent of Inglewood, author of bill to repeal the law, says the issue is choice, not health. Critics contend he is acting on behalf of Hollywood Park Casino.

March 23, 1998|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Assemblyman Edward Vincent, a star running back for the University of Iowa and the L.A. Rams in his playing days, is barreling across Inglewood in his bone-white Cadillac, carrying the ball for a new team.

"It's not about smoking or health," says the 63-year-old Democratic lawmaker, scooting briskly along Century Boulevard with no apparent fear of cop cars. He was mayor here for 14 years.

"It's about choice. It's about this country. If you want to go to a bar and smoke, be my guest," Vincent says in his forceful, gravelly delivery. "If not, go to a bar where they don't smoke."

Vincent--a nonsmoker who lost a sister to lung cancer last year--is presenting his standard argument for why it should be OK to smoke again in bars and casinos, which has been illegal since a statewide ban took effect Jan. 1.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 3, 1998 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Assemblyman Vincent--A March 23 Times story about Assemblyman Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood) referred to him as a star football player for the University of Iowa and the Los Angeles Rams. Vincent actually played only briefly for the Rams.

In Sacramento, the first-term legislator is the author of a bill that would lift the ban. It has passed the Assembly but faces major obstacles in the Senate.

Viewed by his opponents as misinformed, at best, on the health risks of smoking and, at worst, a sellout to the Hollywood Park Casino in his district where the ban is reportedly hurting business, Vincent deals with the criticism as he did with rivals on the gridiron.

He plays offense--evident in the way that he noses the Caddy up to the front door of the casino to show off the place. Ashamed to be associated with the interests of a gambling emporium? Hardly.

Doing its bidding in Sacramento? Why not, he says.

The four-year-old casino and 59-year-old adjoining racetrack, Vincent points out, support Inglewood and surrounding communities with hundreds of jobs and spinoff income.

The Hollywood Park complex--track and casino--pour $10 million a year into Inglewood municipal coffers in taxes and fees, local officials say, constituting 20% of the city's revenue.

The region's other big employers fled long ago as the communities in southern Los Angeles County turned from white to minority suburbs. But R.D. Hubbard, the top man at Hollywood Park, "put his money where his mouth is," said Vincent. "He stayed."

The two-story home that the assemblyman shares with his wife, Marilyn, sits just across the street from the track's parking lot, making his smoking bill not just a district bill, he said, but "a backyard bill."

Much of his closeness to Hollywood Park is openly personal. He buys interests in horses that run there, he bets on them, he feeds them carrots when their racing days are over.

And it was he who, as Inglewood mayor, first suggested building a casino next to the Hollywood Park track, Vincent says. "I worked my buns off to get it," said the compact-looking, onetime All-America running back.

Business in the card room dropped 8% in January, largely due to the smoking ban, said Hollywood Park Casino general manager Tom Bowling, forcing the layoff of 17 custodial workers. The casino employs 1,400 workers from nearby communities, most of them minorities, he said.

As for the current smoking battle, Vincent said, he agreed to carry the bill seeking repeal of the ban at the urging of a Hollywood Park lobbyist. He remains unswayed, he said, by those who say that bar and casino employees deserve protection from secondhand smoke, which is linked to the deaths of 7,000 Californians a year.

"Employees make a choice to work in those places," said Vincent, who was a Los Angeles County probation officer for 36 years.

"I played football and if you play football, I guarantee you're going to get hurt. But it was my choice. No one forced me," he said, showing a surgery scar on his knee from the injury that cut short his career with the Rams.

Even his sister, he said, "smoked as a matter of choice."

Supporters of the ban, meanwhile, have given up on converting Vincent. Mark Burgat, with the anti-tobacco American Heart Assn. in Sacramento, said there is no point arguing with Vincent on the health risks of smoking.

"There is no negotiation room in his bill," Burgat said.

Vincent's measure (AB 297) would allow the resumption of smoking in bars, taverns and casinos on Jan. 1, 1999, for two years. Thereafter, government safety agencies would be required to establish safe indoor smoking levels and allow smoking to resume in bars and casinos that meet the standards.

The problem with that, said Burgat, is that there is no safe level of exposure to indoor smoking.

To arrive at some acceptable standard, he said, "you'd literally need a wind tunnel blowing at gale force" to remove cancer-causing carcinogens from rooms where people smoke.

Vincent disputes that claim and shows correspondence from manufacturers assuring him that they can safely clear harmful smoking residue from enclosed rooms.

As Vincent's bill came up in the Assembly in late January, an outcry was being heard in Sacramento from bar owners predicting business failures and from smoking patrons who complained of being forced to change lifelong habits.

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