A proposal to ban smoking in all Los Angeles restaurants was approved by a City Council committee Monday over the protests of restaurant owners, who fear their businesses would be hurt.
If the full council approves the measure, Los Angeles would become the first major city in the nation to impose such a ban.
The controversial matter will be taken up in four to five weeks and council members expect heavy lobbying.
"To say the very least, we are elated. But the tobacco industry is not going to take this lying down," said Ahron Leichtman, president of Citizens Against Tobacco Smoke, a national lobbying organization.
The proposal has met with strong opposition from restaurant and business interests since it was proposed by Councilman Marvin Braude last May.
But after a public hearing Monday, the measure was approved by a 3-1 vote.
Braude, chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee, and committee members Councilwomen Ruth Galanter and Joy Picus voted for it.
Councilman Joel Wachs, chairman of the Arts, Health and Humanities Committee, which was invited who sat in onto the special hearing, cast the negative vote. He said he was not convinced that a few hours' exposure to smoke in a restaurant was significant and wanted more information before taking a final position.
"I'm no more able to make a decision on this now than I was before the hearing," he said.
Braude, the council's most tenacious anti-smoking crusader, used recent data on the health dangers of second-hand smoke to justify his push for the ban. "This proposal is crucial to protect the health of non-smokers from second-hand smoke," he said.
Braude called tobacco smoke a "deadly carcinogen" that kills 35,000 non-smokers a year in the United States.
Patrick Reynolds, a grandson of R. J. Reynolds, the founder of the giant tobacco company, also spoke in favor of the ban, saying that second-hand smoke causes cancer.
"The evidence is in and it's overwhelming," said Reynolds, who has broken with his family and now crusades against tobacco.
Others who support the ban cited health considerations, both for restaurant patrons and workers.
Several speakers opposed to the measure cited economic reasons, focusing on the experience of Beverly Hills, which enacted a ban on restaurant smoking only to rescind the measure when patronage fell sharply.
Rudy Cole, executive vice president of Restaurants for a Sensible Voluntary Policy, said the ban would be "disastrous" for restaurant owners. "There is a direct relationship between dining and smoking for many people," he said.
Dori Pye, president of the Los Angeles Business Council, argued that the measure would make the city seem "unfriendly" to the German and Japanese tourists. "These people like to smoke," she said.
The owner of a restaurant that caters to Filipinos voiced a similar complaint. And Gerald Breitbart, a spokesman for the California Restaurant Assn. said the ban would hurt small restaurants in "ethnic communities" where many people smoke.
It is not yet clear whether the full council will support the ban, by far the most stringent measure proposed by Braude since he began pushing for anti-smoking proposals 15 years ago.
Los Angeles has ordinances--all authored by Braude--barring smoking in grocery stores, elevators and rooms where public meetings are being conducted.
Under a Braude-sponsored law that was enacted in 1987, restaurants with more than 50 seats must set aside as least half of them for non-smokers. Smaller restaurants are exempt from the law.