City Bans Smoking in Restaurants, Businesses : Ventura: The new ordinance exempts outdoor seating areas. It is praised by health advocates, but others charge that it will drive away customers.


Swayed by arguments of the hazards of secondhand smoke, the Ventura City Council has outlawed smoking in all restaurants and businesses, with the exception of bars.

Restaurant owners protested the ban, saying it would drive off customers.

But nonsmoking advocates hailed it as a victory for public health.

“Heavy concentration of smoke in an area may adversely affect everyone’s health,” said Kay Maloney, director of Public Health Nursing for Ventura County.

The council on Monday voted 5 to 2 to adopt an ordinance that will prohibit smoking in virtually all businesses and restaurants, but allowing it in outdoor seating areas. Councilmen Jim Monahan and Jack Tingstrom--staunch supporters of the business community--dissented, saying that the ordinance would be difficult to enforce and hard for restaurateurs to comply with.


“In this economic time, we should take a look at what we’re asking the restaurants to do,” Tingstrom said before voting. “I do not like to regulate business. I think we’re trying to legislate some morality here.”

The ban compels every hotel and restaurant to post prominent “No Smoking” signs. Restaurants that have bar areas can allow smoking at the bar only if the bar is walled off from the restaurant and has a separate ventilation system. Patrons seated in open-area patios or on sidewalks will also be allowed to smoke.

The council gave hotels a break--they can have designated smoking rooms and will not have to provide separate heating and ventilation systems for them.

The council also backed away from a proposal to prohibit smoking at outdoor facilities and limit tobacco vending machines to bars.

In addition, council members decided to soften the ordinance by making all violations infractions, punishable only by fines ranging from $100 to $500. Previously, the proposal would have made the fourth offense and beyond a misdemeanor crime, with much stiffer penalties.

Normally, laws are effective 30 days after adoption, but the council decided to delay the ban’s implementation until April to give businesses more time to comply.


In an interview Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Gary Tuttle said the council’s decision pivoted on the recognition that secondhand smoke is a public health issue that must be addressed.

“None of us live in a vacuum,” said Tuttle, a former world-class runner. “Everyone--even smokers--have been victimized by secondhand smoke. It’s not healthy, and there’s no reason to continue it.”

But Councilman Monahan argued that the ban is too restrictive and would be difficult to enforce.

“I can see it now, someone’s smoking, call 911,” Monahan said sarcastically before he cast his dissenting vote.

Business leaders and restaurateurs objected to the ban, arguing that it would burden business owners too much to build walls and put in separate ventilation systems for bars in restaurants.

Frank Parong, owner of 66 California restaurant, said in an interview that he would lose customers who smoke because he cannot afford to provide a separate bar area. His bar is next to the dining area.

“A majority of the people who come in during the week are smokers,” Parong said. “It’s not fair at all.”

Owen Cornett, manager of the Players Poker Club on Ventura Avenue, said Tuesday that the new law would be unpopular with his customers--about a third of whom smoke.

“I’ve got $5,000 of smoke eaters in the place,” Cornett said. “My sympathy goes out to people who want to smoke and play cards, but I gotta obey the law.”

But at the public hearing Monday evening, the business community was outnumbered by nonsmoking advocates--including a number of nurses and physicians--who cited the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“How can you allow people to work in the environment of a class A carcinogen?” said Dr. Theodore Hostetler, a pulmonary physician at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.

Nonsmoking advocates reassured council members that the ban would not affect business and warned the council about workers’ compensation lawsuits that may stem from secondhand smoke.

Fred Bysshe, a Ventura attorney who heads the countywide group Smoking Action Coalition, told the council that studies of bans in other cities statewide have not shown smoking bans to have a significant impact on business. The group was responsible for suggesting the ban.

Pat Allison, owner of Allison’s Cafe, told the council that her restaurant has been nonsmoking for four years, with little detriment to her business.

“People were so happy,” Allison said, “and to this day, I cannot walk through the restaurant without hearing how happy they are.”