Two Los Angeles City Council committees, after hearing two hours of vigorous debate, approved a controversial ordinance Monday to ban smoking in the city's 8,600 restaurants.
However, the committees also voted to put off submitting the ordinance for consideration by the full council for at least four weeks to give opponents time to propose possible amendments that may lead to a less-restrictive law.
Typically, ordinances adopted by committee are forwarded to the full council within two weeks.
In a special joint session, the council's Environmental Quality and Waste Management Committee and the Arts, Health and Humanities Committee approved the ban over the strenuous objections of restaurant owners and business groups.
During the hearing, council members Marvin Braude, who sponsored the ordinance, Ruth Galanter and Joel Wachs heard from about two dozen opponents and supporters of the proposed ban, including Patrick Reynolds, the grandson of tobacco company magnate R. J. Reynolds.
Councilman Joel Wachs, who abstained from voting, said he needed to see more evidence before he could believe either side's claims.
"I'm no more able to make a decision on this now than I was before the hearing," he said.
After Braude agreed to delay a council hearing, Councilwoman Ruth Galanter voted for the proposal.
"A number of issues have been raised that I would like to grapple with," said Galanter, who has supported Braude's past anti-smoking efforts.
Los Angeles has ordinances--all authored by Braude--barring smoking in grocery stores, elevators and rooms where public meetings are being conducted, and requiring restaurants with seating for 50 or more people to set aside at least half the tables for nonsmokers.
Restaurateurs based their opposition to the latest proposal on the claim that smokers would not go out to eat if they could not also smoke. Several cited the experience of Beverly Hills, which enacted a complete ban on restaurant smoking when Los Angeles adopted its current law, only to rescind the measure when patronage fell sharply.
"I am concerned with the economic future of our institution," said Michael Taix, part owner of the venerable Les Freres Taix restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.
"The Beverly Hills experiment should illustrate how lethal this ban can be to our marginally profitable business," he said.
Rudy Cole of Restaurants for a Sensible Voluntary Policy, a coalition claiming 200 member restaurants in Los Angeles, said the adequacy of the current law is demonstrated by the lack of public complaint.
But Braude and other supporters of the measure said their position had little to do with diners' comfort.
"Tobacco smoke is a deadly carcinogen," Braude said. "It kills both smokers and nonsmokers."
While the surgeon general estimates that tobacco kills 395,000 users a year, Braude said, "recent scientific disclosures indicate that at least 35,000 nonsmoking Americans also die each year as a result of other people's smoking."
The risk of lung cancer is 30 times as high for people highly exposed to second-hand smoke as for the nonsmoking general public, according to Dr. Wilbur Hallett of the USC Medical School and the American Lung Assn.
But Wachs said he was not convinced of the significance of smoke exposure from spending a few hours at a restaurant.