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Nonsmokers Get Respect, No Ban on Puffing Inside Stadium

Times Staff Writer

After listening to pleas from paid lobbyists of the tobacco industry and smokers, the San Diego Stadium Authority on Thursday backed off from a proposed ban on smoking in all San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium seating areas in favor of asking smokers to be respectful of nonsmokers.

As part of the compromise, a sign will erected on the stadium scoreboard by the start of baseball season that will read:

“The Stadium Authority requests if you smoke please be considerate of your neighbor.”

The wording was worked out in committee meetings with officials of the football Chargers and baseball Padres, primary tenants of the stadium.

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Pleased, Disappointed

Anti-smokers in favor of the policy were both pleased and disappointed by Thursday’s action--pleased that the Stadium Authority had taken “a first step,” as several labeled it, toward curbing smoking at the stadium, but disappointed that the measure was considerably milder than the plan board member Mike Gotch first proposed six months ago.

Former City Councilman Gotch, who had lobbied for a ban on smoking in all areas of the stadium except the concourse and walkways, ultimately accepted a committee compromise and said he was pleased with Thursday’s 9-0 vote.

“The action was universally regarded as a first step toward a smoke-free stadium,” Gotch said. “That’s always been my objective, because sidestream smoke is a killer. It’s been proven. I consider this an important policy statement.”

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The measure--technically a “policy"--does not need City Council approval. Only an “ordinance” would need such approval.

Hopes for Reevaluation

Gotch said he hopes the policy will be reevaluated by the board within a year, to see if stiffer measures can then be considered. He said he was not disappointed by what some construed as a watered-down compromise, pointing out that the American Lung Assn. and FAIR (Fans Advocating Individual Rights), the pro-smoking group, both considered Thursday’s vote a nod to the nonsmoker.

“It isn’t a ban--yet--but we’re still on the cutting edge,” Gotch said. “We’ll still be the first open-air, multipurpose stadium in the country to have addressed the issue of smoking. I’d call it a good victory.

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“As for the compromise, well . . . after eight years of legislative activity, I’ve come to believe that going home with half a loaf is better than going home with none.”

For a while, though, it looked as if, to his surprise, Gotch might go home with none. Although the Chargers and Padres had approved the wording of the policy beforehand, Chargers’ representative Jack Teele suggested an amendment that would have altered the wording to read quite differently.

Teele said he and the Padres’ representative had been swayed by a pro-smoking speaker, who advocated changing the sign to read, “Whether or not you smoke . . . " rather than “if you smoke . . . " The speaker said admonitions of courtesy need to be extended to all who attend a stadium event and not just those who smoke. He said drinkers are the stadium’s primary villains, and that a change in wording would have targeted them as well. Teele agreed.

Amendment Quashed

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After a confused but amusing round of discussion, the amendment was quashed.

Later, Gotch laughed about it, saying, “Had that passed, we would have had a policy that said: ‘Everyone should be nice to everyone else.’ ”

The almost-three-hour, often emotional meeting was not without amusement in other ways. Larry C. Holcomb, who said he had a Ph.D. degree in “environmental science,” journeyed from Olivet., Mich., as a lobbyist funded by The Tobacco Institute. Holcomb pulled out of separate trash bags a pot with rancid coffee mildewed to the bottom and a foul-smelling filter from a heating and air conditioning duct. He said that both came from San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and that either would breed far more toxic damage than a stadium-load of sidestream smoke.

“That coffee pot and heating filter did not come from the stadium,” Gotch said.

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Holcomb refused to say how much he was paid by the tobacco lobby. His chief argument, absent data, was that secondary smoke “is not a hazard to anyone’s health, so I can tell you . . . that you’re wrong.”

Referred to Bans

One speaker pointed out that open-air stadiums at Stanford University and at the University of Idaho at Boise both maintain bans on smoking. The speaker noted, however, that those stadiums are funded by colleges, not municipalities, and that neither is multipurpose.

That failed to deter James Ford, former health director for the county, who said a ban on smoking is needed because civic sanction of “an addictive drug” was wrong. Ford said he also spoke “as a black man, concerned about the impact that the tobacco industry has had on black people,” and as an asthmatic who, when exposed to it, “always” suffers from sidestream smoke.

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Another asthmatic, a boy, spoke in favor of a ban, as did a man who said his mother and grandmother were twin casualties of cancer, having been lifelong smokers.

The smoking lobby was equally emotional and inclined to drama, festooning tables with bright blue balloons and mixing applause with clouds of smoke as its side presented its arguments.

Resented Implication

Loretta Vogel said she had boycotted stadium events for months because of a policy that won’t take effect for months. Vogel said she “resented the implication that smokers can’t be courteous.

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“It’s true that some people are allergic to cigarette smoke,” she said, “but some people are also allergic to roses, and you don’t see rose bushes ripped from public places. What we have here, on the other side of the room, is a group of people who, in managing to make enough noise, have created the illusion of speaking for the majority.”

With her voice cracking with emotion, Vogel added, “Well, they don’t. I’m comfortable in knowing when I leave the stadium parking lot I can’t be killed by a driver who’s had too many cigarettes instead of one who’s had too many beers.”

Vogel said East Coast friends of hers who had heard of or read about the proposed ban had asked, “Are Californians really that sickly . . . or wimpy?”

Marie Jones, the spokeswoman for FAIR, said she mourned the measure as a victory for nonsmokers. She bemoaned it as “discriminatory, one that’s going to cause confrontation in the stands--which is just what we need. It gives the teeth to the anti-smoker who can now turn to me and say, ‘Your smoking is against stadium policy'--even if they’re wrong.”

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