Would Affect Most Public Areas : Downey Votes Initial OK on Anti-Smoking Law

Times Staff Writer

The City Council Tuesday voted preliminary approval for an ordinance prohibiting smoking in most public places and requiring no-smoking sections in restaurants with seating for 20 or more patrons.

If the proposed ordinance is given final approval on May 23, smoking would be prohibited at retail stores, medical facilities and child-care operations 30 days after passage.

Smoking would not be allowed in enclosed areas such as elevators, hallways and restrooms. It would be restricted to designated areas in the workplace, restaurants and hotels.

Smoking would be allowed in bars, malls, retail tobacco stores, private assembly rooms and in designated areas in places of work where smokers are in the majority. Certain sections of lobbies in theaters and auditoriums also would be designated for smokers.

According to the measure, employers would be urged to make "reasonable efforts" to provide a smoke-free area, but they would not be required to erect barriers for nonsmokers. The rights of nonsmokers would be given precedence in disputes between nonsmokers and smokers. Signs indicating smoking and nonsmoking areas would be required in business establishments.

Revisions and amendments are expected to be offered at a public hearing before the ordinance is given its final reading on May 23.

The council gave tentative approval to the measure by a vote of 4 to 1 with Barbara Hayden voting no. She said the proposed law was "too wordy."

The council considered the proposal after receiving phone calls, letters and other responses that favored a smoking ordinance by a margin of 2 to 1, according to a report presented to the council by June Yotsuya, assistant to the city manager.

Councilman Roy Paul said he was concerned about the effect the ordinance would have on small businesses. He said it showed signs of a "big brother" mentality. "I see this as just another infringement," he said, calling the ordinance confusing.

Mayor Robert G. Cormack said that the smoking regulation is necessary because 76% of the people are nonsmokers. "The only laws we should have are those that protect the health and welfare of the people," Cormack said.

Councilwoman Diane Boggs called the proposal fair. She said it would be irresponsible to ignore the statistical data on smoking.

Dr. Kenneth Wayne, a pulmonologist at Gallatin Medical Clinic in Downey, was instrumental in bringing the proposal for a smoking law to the council more than a year ago. Wayne said the ordinance should have been stronger.

"It isn't as tough as I would like, but it is certainly a first step," Wayne said.

"I am convinced of the hazards of active and passive smoke. . . . Nonsmokers shouldn't be forced to breath second-hand smoke," he said. He favors barriers to restrict smoke moving from room to room.

The effects of second-hand smoke became a national concerned when U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a formal warning in 1986 on its danger to nonsmokers. The report stated that healthy nonsmokers have an increased risk of getting lung cancer and other respiratory diseases by breathing smoke-filled air.

There are nearly 400 communities nationwide that have placed restrictions on smoking, according to Mark Pertschuk, director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, headquartered in Berkeley. Pertschuk said he was aware of the Downey ordinance and said it was mild.

If the proposal becomes law, Downey will join 169 other California communities with smoking ordinances.

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