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A Month With Smoking Law: Problems Resolved Smoothly

Times Staff Writer

One month after Los Angeles’ tough new anti-smoking ordinance went into effect, officials are still receiving plenty of inquiries and complaints about it. But with few exceptions, most problems have been resolved short of court action.

According to Deputy City Atty. Bruce Coplen, who is coordinating enforcement procedures, 1,399 telephone calls have been received by the city attorney’s office about the law, which states that, “to the maximum extent possible,” employers must provide a smoke-free work area for those who want one.

Smoking is no longer permitted in company elevators, medical facilities, restrooms and two-thirds of all lounge areas, cafeterias and lunchrooms.

Violations by employers, such as reprisals against a non-smoking employee, are misdemeanors, which can result in either a hearing once a complaint is filed with the city attorney, or a prosecution, punishable by a $500 fine, six months in jail, or both.

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Of the 1,399 calls, Coplen said, the majority were inquiries about the law and what compliance meant. Only 41 resulted in complaints being filed with the office, he added. Of those, 17 were resolved through letters or phone calls by hearing officers and 22 are still under investigation.

Hearings Scheduled

The two remaining complaints are scheduled for city attorney hearings.

“One of those is where a secretary is complaining that her boss is smoking in her non-smoking area,” Coplen said. “The other is where an employee is complaining her boss fired her for complaining that the office wasn’t complying with the ordinance.”

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The identities of the parties involved, he added, would not be made public unless the cases fail to be resolved in their scheduled June hearings and proceed to court.

The majority of telephone inquiries received have been from “employers who wanted to verify if they were in compliance,” Coplen noted, “and from employees complaining their employers were not in compliance.”

A lesser number of calls came from employees “who felt their employers had gone too far,” he added, “and from people inquiring why restaurants and retail stores aren’t covered by the ordinance.”

An amendment to the new law was introduced last week by City Councilmen Howard Finn and Marvin Braude and has been referred to the city attorney’s office for review.

It would require that retail and department stores either provide a smoke-free environment or post signs saying that a smoke-free environment is not available, Coplen said.

So far, he added, no amendment has been introduced to place restaurants under the ordinance.


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