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Clearing the County Air for Nonsmokers : * Supervisors’ Phased-in Smoking Ban Is a Healthy Sign That Cities Should Emulate

The Orange County Board of Supervisors continued its good work on the no-smoking front last week, imposing a ban in not just restaurants but also retail stores and businesses in unincorporated areas, where the supervisors govern.

The supervisors wisely decided to phase in the measure so that it takes complete effect by 1995. That may seem like a long time, but it will give businesspeople a more than sufficient period to adjust to the rules.

To start, restaurants that can seat 50 or more customers must increase nonsmoking areas from 20% to 75% of their capacity by February. By early next year, smoking will be banned in private offices in all buildings unless all employees in the office smoke. Also out are rooms now designated as smoking areas. That means sometime soon you can look for smokers, singly or in small groups, huddled outside a building to puff away.

What was surprising about the two hearings preceding the supervisors’ decision was the absence of tobacco industry representatives. Restaurants, hotels and other business groups sent written complaints about the ban to county offices, but even they didn’t appear in person. True, when supervisors considered restrictions on smoking in buildings with county offices several years ago, tobacco industry lobbyists preferred to make their pitches in private calls, not in public presentations.

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But in the old days, tobacco industry representatives were visible at the hearings, to monitor how the vote went. Despite pressure, the supervisors rightly went ahead and put tough restrictions on smoking in county buildings. It’s a measure of how much the climate against smoking has changed that the lobbyists stayed away from the latest hearings.

The county smoking ban is not as widespread as it would have been even five years ago. That’s due to the increasing number of cities in Orange County, each controlling activity within its borders and stripping away unincorporated territory once governed by the supervisors. But the ban will affect about 100 restaurants in communities like Sunset Beach, North Tustin and El Modena. The numerous cities in the county that already have ordered restaurants to establish non-smoking areas would be wise to look at the county action and follow suit.

The health aspects of smoking, and the damage caused to innocent bystanders forced to inhale second-hand smoke, outweigh individual rights to puff away, as Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez correctly noted.


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