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Business Asked for Smoking Rules : Supervisors Vote Initial Approval for Voluntary Program

Times Staff Writer

Despite a final plea by an anti-smoking crusader, Orange County supervisors gave preliminary approval on a 3-2 vote Tuesday to a measure letting private businesses come up with a voluntary program to regulate smoking in the workplace.

Jules Kerker, a member of Californians for Nonsmokers Rights, asked the supervisors to “please, make my day” by adopting mandatory smoking regulations for all businesses with 10 or more employees in unincorporated areas of Orange County.

“The people have demonstrated that they are crying for this protection,” Kerker argued.

But despite confusion over who in the “private sector” will take the lead and complications caused by dissension in the ranks of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, the supervisors voted to give private businesses 90 days to draw up their own voluntary program to regulate smoking in the workplace and another 90 days to implement it.

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While the voluntary-approach ordinance faces another board vote next Tuesday, Supervisors Bruce Nestande, Harriett Wieder and Roger Stanton said they are opposed to any mandatory program for private business.

‘Philosophically Preferable’

“I still feel that a voluntary approach is philosophically preferable to increased government regulation,” Wieder said. “I feel that government steps in at the time when the private sector does not accept responsibility.”

The discussion of one of the more contentious issues of modern times--the rights of smokers and non-smokers--was much quieter than the board’s public hearing on the proposed ordinance two weeks ago.

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Only Kerker spoke against the ordinance, and his remarks were limited to three minutes by Board Chairman Thomas F. Riley. At the May 21 meeting, two dozen spoke in favor of mandatory regulation.

Riley, who along with Supervisor Ralph Clark voted against the voluntary policy, said he tried weeks ago to get chambers of commerce in the county to draw up a smoking program to no avail.

“The action they’ve taken is the same they’ve taken in the years I’ve been here--nothing,” Riley said.

After the meeting two weeks ago, supervisors thought the Orange County Chamber of Commerce had agreed to draft a work plan within 90 days for voluntary compliance among private employers. The supervisors also called for evaluation of the voluntary effort within six months.

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But last Friday the president of the chamber, Lucien D. Truhill, hand-delivered a letter to supervisors saying the business group “cannot accept the responsibility” to develop such a plan “and disavows any administrative or monitoring responsibility.”

Chairman Sends Letter

That in turn led the board chairman of the chamber, Robert J. Waller, to send a letter to members of the chamber’s board of directors that was also circulated to supervisors, criticizing the chamber’s lack of action. The chamber “faltered on the goal line,” said Waller, who testified in favor of the voluntary program at the May 21 meeting. He said the chamber missed “an opportunity to show leadership, to get involved in a local issue that affected us directly.”

Waller’s letter said that if the chamber does not provide effective leadership, “we are just another ‘lightweight’ group of people afraid to stick our necks out.”

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Wieder said the supervisors might have misplaced their trust in the chamber’s proposal, but added, “The private sector still needs to have that opportunity that we offered it to prove itself.” She said business groups other than the county chamber might step forward to come up with a plan.

She warned that if there is no visible action by business people within 90 days, “then I for sure will support a mandatory regulation of smoking in the workplace, the private workplace as well as the public workplace.”

Some employers had expressed concern that adopting rules barring customers from smoking in their establishments could cost them business.

Supporters of the mandatory regulation argued that passage of no-smoking laws in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere had caused no drop in business.

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The supervisors did vote to extend the ban on smoking to work areas in all county buildings. The 1975 law prohibited lighting up in county buildings frequented by the public except in designated areas.


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