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A Change in the Air : Santa Monica: A new City Council majority appears ready to overturn a tough local ban on public smoking in favor of a less stringent state law.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It has been only a week since stringent new smoking regulations went into effect in California, but the Santa Monica City Council is already poised to ease the city’s own strict rules on smoking.

The council’s reconsideration of the city ordinance Tuesday will come just 10 days after lighting up in restaurants and most indoor workplaces was banned statewide and less than two months after Santa Monica adopted one of the toughest smoking bans in the region.

The local law goes beyond the state regulations by banning smoking in all businesses, hotel and motel lobbies and banquet rooms, and by requiring bars to be smoke-free by January, 1996. The council majority that approved the ordinance said that the dangers of secondhand smoke were well-documented and that the city should take extraordinary steps to protect the health of its citizenry.

On Tuesday, however, a new council majority is expected to toss out the more stringent local requirements on the basis that it may prompt smokers to patronize businesses outside Santa Monica that are not required to be smoke-free. Los Angeles and surrounding communities are covered only by the state’s less restrictive smoking ordinances, which will allow smoking in bars to continue until at least 1997.

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“This is not a smoking issue,” said William Worcester, general manager of the Miramar Sheraton Hotel and an opponent of the city’s ordinance. “We want Santa Monica to have the same rules as other communities.”

Santa Monica’s ordinance passed Nov. 29 and was to have taken effect Dec. 30. The law has not been enforced, however, since the council on Dec. 13 directed the city attorney’s office to draft a revised ordinance in light of the new state law.

The council’s realignment on the smoking issue follows the November election of council members who appear to be more sympathetic to business owners who oppose the local smoking regulations. Newly elected Councilwoman Ruth Ebner said last week she would vote to rescind the ban.

Ebner, the only smoker on the seven-member council, said she is worried that the lucrative foreign tourist trade will decline if smoking is banned in bar areas of restaurants and hotels.

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“People from the Orient and Europe smoke a lot,” said Ebner, reciting a local tourist board’s estimate that 70% of tourists who visit Santa Monica are from abroad. “I think (the ban) would have serious impact if they are not allowed to smoke in Santa Monica and they can in neighboring communities.”

Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, also new to the council, said last week that she will wait to hear public comments Tuesday before deciding how she will vote.

“I’m new to the (smoking) issue, and it’s not one in which I came to the council with an agenda,” she said. “We need to balance the public health issue with some businesses’ economic concerns.”

But even without O’Connor’s vote, the council is expected to have the necessary four votes to rescind the ordinance.

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Councilman Bob Holbrook, who was reelected to a second term in November, initiated the proposal to overturn the ordinance. Mayor Paul Rosenstein and Councilwoman Asha Greenberg have both opposed implementing a city smoking ban in the past.

The two staunch anti-smoking council members, Judy Abdo and Ken Genser, both said last week that they are against making smoking regulations weaker and would oppose rescinding the local ban in favor of state law.

“There has been no credible evidence that shows smoking bans have hurt businesses in cities that have adopted them,” Genser said. “And there has been considerable evidence that secondhand smoke is dangerous.”


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