Beverly Hills appears on its way to becoming the first city in the state to adopt an outright ban on smoking in restaurants.
The Beverly Hills City Council is expected to approve the tough smoking ordinance next week, despite objections from owners of many of its posh restaurants who contend that it would drive away customers.
"Beverly Hills is a very little city in the sea of Los Angeles," said Barry Fogel, president of Jacopo's Restaurant. "The law would be a disaster for the city."
Councilwoman Donna Ellman, a smoker who is one of four on the five-member council who support the ordinance, disagreed with Fogel's prediction.
"Socially, smoking has become unacceptable," Ellman said, "The public has accepted no smoking in theaters; they will accept it in restaurants."
Under the proposed ordinance, restaurant owners would be required to post signs prohibiting smoking in the dining areas of their establishments. Those violating the ban would be subject to a fine or a jail term. The city currently has no law regulating smoking in restaurants.
The ordinance states that smoking is "a cause of inconvenience, annoyance, discomfort and poses a health hazard to those who are in confined places." The council has not decided whether the law will extend to hotels, office buildings or cocktail bars.
Several restaurant owners and a representative of the Chamber of Commerce spoke out against the ordinance when it was discussed Tuesday at a council study session.
"The restaurant owners are not receiving any complaints, so why create a new law," said Mike Sims, vice president of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, which has 74 restaurants among its members.
Sims asked the council to withdraw the proposal and allow restaurants to issue their own restrictions.
"I'm against it," Jimmy Murphy of the famed Jimmy's Restaurant said in an interview. "Not that I'm a smoker. But people's rights would be infringed on. . . . I would say that people should have freedom of choice on a thing like this."
Larry Flax, owner of the California Pizza Kitchen on South Beverly Drive, predicted that the city would face "tremendous court problems" if the law is passed. "There will be citizens' arrests made; the police will be called in," he said.
But Assistant City Atty. Steve Rood said that smoking ordinances in other cities have not resulted in the kinds of legal entanglements the restaurant owners fear.
Only in the city of Aspen, Colo., is there a similar smoking ban, he said. In Los Angeles County, the cities of Pasadena, West Hollywood and Long Beach require restaurant owners to provide smoke-free areas in their restaurants.
Walt Bilofsky of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights said that of the 91 no-smoking ordinances enacted in California cities and counties, none has been repealed and some have been strengthened.
Councilman Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr., who supports the ban, said it might boost patronage in the city's restaurants.
Stansbury cited recent studies on the effect of smoke on nonsmokers, saying that they have changed public attitudes against smoking. The new law might drive away smokers, but it will also drum up business among nonsmokers, who now outnumber smokers, he said.
"You are going to get a lot of publicity," he told the restaurant owners. "People will be drawn into Beverly Hills from many different areas, saying, 'Let's go to Beverly Hills to eat because at least in Beverly Hills you can eat smoke-free."'
Council members said they believe that the ordinance would have support among Beverly Hills residents. "It's just not healthy for people to be sitting next to you blowing smoke in your face," said Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum.
Tanenbaum said he has received 40 letters concerning the ordinance, and "all my mail has run 100% in favor" of it. Councilwoman Ellman said she had planned to vote against the ordinance, but changed her mind after receiving several letters complaining about cigarette smoking.