After the issue is aired again this week, Torrance may join the ranks of California cities that have adopted laws to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke in public places and at work.
The City Council will meet to consider a revised anti-smoking ordinance Tuesday evening that would ban smoking in most public places and require non-smoking areas in larger restaurants and all workplaces.
While refusing to predict the outcome, Torrance City Manager LeRoy Jackson said that in the past month "there has been no significant negative response" to the proposed smoking controls.
Even the business community's initial opposition to the proposed curbs on smoking has eased in the month since the council last debated the issue.
"I don't think there's a big controversy over it," said Dan McClain, vice president and general manager of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce. "We are generally supportive of the efforts."
Although the chamber objected to elements of an anti-smoking ordinance last month, McClain said there is a growing recognition that adoption of smoking controls is likely.
"We have not found a lot of opposition," McClain said. "Businesses are concerned like everyone else about the health of employees."
The revised ordinance recommended by city staff would ban smoking in supermarkets, retail stores, pharmacies, the indoor public areas of hotels and motels, banks and offices, city buildings, buses and taxis. Bars, residences, hotel and motel guest rooms, tobacco stores and private functions would be exempt.
The revised ordinance also would require setting aside for non-smokers half the seats in restaurants with 50 seats or more.
A recent survey by the city of 19 Torrance restaurants showed most reserved less than half their seats for non-smokers.
In the workplace, the ordinance would give employees the right to designate their immediate work area as a non-smoking zone. In disputes between smokers and non-smokers, the rights of the non-smoker would be given precedence. The ordinance does not define immediate work area, leaving that to employers.
It would be a misdemeanor to violate the ordinance, carrying a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and six months in jail.
A city survey of 66 Torrance businesses found that 60% already have a smoking policy, 35% do not, and the remaining 5% are in the process of developing a policy.
The survey found that in businesses with a smoking policy, 72% allow employees to designate their immediate work area as a non-smoking zone and 77% give non-smokers precedence over smokers when a dispute arises.
The revised ordinance recommended by city staff would not require installation of barriers between smoking and non-smoking areas in restaurants or other expenditures by businesses. However, businesses would be required to set aside not less than 50% of the area in cafeterias, lunch rooms and employee lounges for non-smokers.
The issue of non-smoking seats in restaurants and smoke-free areas in the workplace were the major points of discussion when the council considered four separate anti-smoking ordinances in October. The council will consider one of the tougher of these ordinances Tuesday.
The American Cancer Society, American Heart Assn., American Lung Assn. and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights all endorsed strict controls in restaurants and businesses in Torrance, though they would favor setting aside even more than 50% of the seats in restaurants for non-smokers.
"No longer is this a matter of smokers and non-smokers trying to reach an accommodation," said Stanley Uberman, a cancer society volunteer and an anti-smoking advocate. "We're now dealing with a public health problem."
Uberman said the fight for non-smokers' rights has taken on a new urgency since the release last December of a report by U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on the health consequences of involuntary smoking.
"It established new ground rules," Uberman said.
In his report to Congress, Koop cited new scientific studies about the health danger to non-smokers posed by breathing secondhand smoke.
"It is now clear that disease risk due to inhalation of tobacco smoke is not solely limited to the individual who is smoking, but can also extend to those individuals who inhale tobacco smoke in room air," Koop said. "Involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy non-smokers."
Koop noted that smoking was a factor in 15% of all deaths in the United States and he urged that smoking be banned in public places and on airlines.
His report was immediately criticized by the Tobacco Institute, which said the findings were not based on scientific evidence.
Scott Stapf, assistant to the president of the Tobacco Institute, said that Koop "is hell-bent on getting to his goal of a smoke-free society and has made it clear he's not going to let science stand in his way of getting there."
But in the 11 months since the report was issued, there has been a rush by cities, counties and the state to restrict smoking.
By mid-June, 120 local governments in California had adopted laws regulating smoking to various degrees, according to a survey presented to the Torrance council last month by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Torrance's would be in the mainstream of those ordinances.
Gov. George Deukmejian also signed a law in September that would ban smoking on all planes, buses and trains operating on routes in California. However, a conflict with federal law may prevent its enforcement.