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L.A. may restrict outdoor smoking

Lighting up on patios and other areas near restaurants could be illegal by summer if the City Council acts.

January 08, 2009|Maeve Reston

Lighting up on the outdoor patios of cafes and coffee shops may soon be a thing of the past in Los Angeles. The city's arts and parks committee took a first step Wednesday toward a new ban on smoking on restaurant patios or within 10 feet of any outdoor establishment that serves food or beverages.

Bars with outdoor areas and other over-18 venues would be exempt.

If the full City Council approves the law, the measure could be in place this summer after a six-month grace period allowing businesses to adjust to the new rules.

Though questions remain about what the penalties would be and how the proposed law would be enforced, Councilman Tom LaBonge, chairman of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, said it was getting easier to enforce the smoking bans because of cooperation by restaurant owners.

"The patrons are really demanding it," LaBonge said after his committee directed city lawyers to draft the ordinance Wednesday. "One day we'll be an absolutely smoke-free world as we move forward, but people still enjoy it, so we're still allowing it."

The measure's sponsor, Councilman Greig Smith, said he wrote the legislation after noticing that California's ban on smoking inside restaurants was driving smokers just outside the establishments' doors, exposing children and other patrons to secondhand smoke as they entered the venue or waited for tables.

"We needed to do something about it," Smith said.

Though Calabasas and some other cities have far more stringent anti-smoking laws, the refuges for smokers in Los Angeles have dwindled in recent years. In addition to the state ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces, smoking is prohibited on city beaches, in farmers markets and within 25 feet of playgrounds, bleachers, sport courts, fields and picnic areas.

In L.A. city parks, smoking is banned except on city-run golf courses and in designated areas, and violators face fines of up to $250. City officials allow exceptions for filmmakers as long as they seek permits from the city.

In passing the ban on smoking in outdoor dining areas, Los Angeles would be following the lead of other cities, including Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

Last month, Boston's health commission extended that city's smoking ban to outdoor patios, hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts; banned the opening of new hookah bars; and said current smoking establishments must shut down in 10 years. Calabasas has approved some of the region's most restrictive rules, banning smoking in any public area or private place open to the public.

Officials from the California Restaurant Assn. and several cigar groups said Wednesday that they were concerned about the original proposal but were satisfied after negotiations that led to the exemption for age-restricted venues like bars and cigar bars.

"We were able to work with them on a compromise, which makes it so you can't smoke on the patio of a Chili's, but if you're going to a nightclub at midnight on a Friday and it's age-restricted, smoking would be allowed," said Michael Hugh Dougherty, an area sales manager for Fuente & Newman Premium Cigars. Dougherty addressed the committee Wednesday.

A spokesman for the restaurant association said the group has not taken a position because the penalties and legal language are not final.

"What we're looking for is something that's flexible, that recognizes that restaurateurs can't and shouldn't be in the position of being smoking police," said restaurant association spokesman Daniel Conway. "If there's someone having a smoke on the sidewalk, we don't want to be in the position of having a restaurateur have to go outside and tell that person they need to step away from the patio."

Smith said he believed a reasonable approach would be to ask restaurant owners to tell smokers to snuff out their cigars or cigarettes and ask police to cite uncooperative smokers.

Outside Cafe Tropical in Silver Lake on Wednesday evening, smoker Omar Montes said he worried the City Council was going too far.

"When you get into the government telling you what to do outdoors, I worry about that," said Montes, a 43-year-old computer systems technician. "I understand the health reasons for it. . . . But for me it's about Big Brother. How far is it going to go? You can't text [while driving], you can't talk on the phone. I mean c'mon."

A smoker in the upstairs Biergarten at Silver Lake's Red Lion Inn predicted that the council would face strong opposition from smokers.

"We have already been penalized and prosecuted as smokers in the last five, 10 years or so," said Matthew Tolmachoff, a 38-year-old biotech equipment salesman. "If it's your choice that you want to kill yourself smoking a cigarette, you should at least be able to have a drink to go along with that."

"There's still a lot of smokers left in Los Angeles."

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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