A tough anti-smoking ordinance became law this week in Long Beach, prohibiting puffing in municipal buildings and virtually all workplaces and requiring restaurants to set aside two-thirds of their seating for nonsmokers.
The law, a watered-down version of a stricter ordinance passed last spring, took effect Monday with a certain amount of grumbling and rejoicing, but few hitches, said Judy Ross, project director of the city's Tobacco Education Program.
"We received a number of calls asking, 'Is today the day? Is it in effect?' " Ross said. "One McDonnell Douglas employee called to thank us for making his workplace smoke-free."
The City Council was forced to repeal the tougher law before it took effect, after about 30,000 Long Beach residents signed a petition objecting to what would have been one of the most restrictive anti-smoking ordinances in the state. Not only would smoking have been curtailed in office buildings and workplaces, it would have been banned entirely in restaurants by 1994.
The new law still has plenty of teeth, however, and many smokers were none too happy about it.
"They won't let me smoke in there. I hate that, man," 16-year-old Victor Morales snorted on the steps outside the Long Beach courthouse, where he had been relegated with his cigarette. "They should let the public decide whether they want to smoke or not."
As of Monday, smokers cannot light up in municipal buildings and are assigned to a minority of restaurant seats. Smoking has also been prohibited in all private offices, including those in high-rises, unless the offices are equipped with separate ventilation systems that do not circulate elsewhere in their buildings. Ross said she knew of no such offices.
Lunchrooms and cafeterias in public buildings must also adhere to the one-third smoking rule, according to the new law.
"I am sure it's a difficult transition for smokers and we are very much aware of that. We really want to be there for them, too," Ross said. Her office provides referrals for stop-smoking programs and offers self-help techniques.
Although the new law is less severe than the seven nonsmoking City Council members originally intended, Ross said that Long Beach probably has not heard the last of the smoking debate.
"The wave statewide is certainly more restrictive and more protective and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this issue were revisited again someday," she said.