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POLITICIAN WATCH : Smoke Screen

In theory, a statewide law on where smoking would be prohibited makes sense. But the anti-smoking legislation before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee today is not at all what it seems.

SB 376, a bill that contains a provision incredibly similar to a proposal advocated by the tobacco industry, may be an example of Machiavellianism pure and perhaps not so simple. It deserves to be defeated.

A memo obtained by health advocates and circulated to reporters revealed that tobacco industry officials devised a strategy to preempt local anti-smoking ordinances by giving the “appearance” of a comprehensive statewide law. SB 376, by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro), would, among other things, stop cities and counties from enacting anti-smoking ordinances two months after the bill took effect.

The bill bans smoking in “public places” but doesn’t consider the workplace a public place.

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Those are just a couple of the major problems with the bill. Another has to do with whether Speaker Willie Brown advised the tobacco industry in how to combat the tide of more than 200 local anti-smoking ordinances in California. Brown, while saying he backs a statewide ban of the type advocated by the industry, vehemently denies that he coached tobacco officials in how to achieve such a ban when he visited cigarette executives last fall in New York at the expense of tobacco giant Philip Morris.

There will be no jokes about smoke-filled rooms here. Suffice it to say SB 376 emits a certain foul odor, and it isn’t smoke.


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