Wilson to Smoke: Get Lost

In an election year, when politicians can do odd things, Gov. Pete Wilson did the right thing Thursday by signing a bill that gives Californians the best protection from unwanted smoke of all Americans.

The bill, by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood), outlaws smoking in nearly all enclosed places of employment, including restaurants and shopping malls, starting Jan. 1. Violators are subject to fines of up to $500 per violation. There are certain exceptions, such as bars, hotel lobbies and banquet rooms and workplaces with five or fewer employees if none object. Under the law, localities are free to pass even tougher restrictions.

This and other recent bans on smoking are based on growing evidence that nonsmokers are injured by secondhand smoke. Last month the Journal of the American Medical Assn. published a study of 653 cases of lung cancer among women who had never smoked--in five metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. It found that in women with long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, the risk of getting cancer was up to 75% higher than among those not exposed.

The tobacco industry claims that California's new rules are bad for business. But that is belied by the support for the Friedman bill from hotel and restaurant associations, which prefer a statewide level playing field for all members.

Wilson also deserves a cheer for announcing his opposition to Proposition 188, the November ballot measure mounted by Philip Morris Inc., the cigarette maker. It would nullify the Friedman bill, substitute weaker smoking rules and allow local exceptions. Unfortunately, the governor says he will be too busy running for reelection to campaign against it. But on this, at least, he and his Democratic opponent, State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, agree. It is urgent that all concerned with public health unite to crush this pernicious abuse of the initiative process.

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