Beverly Hills to ban cafe smoking

Times Staff Writers

Dining alfresco at a Beverly Hills eatery can mean lingering over a gourmet meal and a bottle of fine wine. But enjoying a leisurely smoke at the cafe table will soon be a faux pas.

That’s because the Beverly Hills City Council unanimously gave final approval Tuesday night to an ordinance snuffing out smoking in nearly all outdoor dining areas.

Diners can still light up this summer. Bowing to restaurateurs’ worries that the restrictions would drive away heavy-smoking tourists -- including sightseers from Europe and Asia, who represent a big part of the city’s economic lifeblood -- Beverly Hills officials decided to wait until Oct. 1 to begin the ban.


For smokers who made plans long ago to visit Beverly Hills, “we wanted to provide some advance notice,” explained Mayor Jimmy Delshad.

The City Council also promised to track business at restaurants after the ban begins. The council signaled that, if necessary to protect the local economy, it would modify or repeal the ordinance before it becomes permanent six months after implementation.

Beverly Hills, although often a trendsetter, isn’t on the cutting edge with the new law. Bans are spreading around California as a way to protect the public from secondhand smoke and to discourage the smoking habit.

In Southern California, Calabasas, Santa Monica and Burbank previously adopted restrictions on smoking in public places. And smoking inside restaurants and bars is prohibited by state law.

But Beverly Hills remains a one-of-a-kind destination, and the debate in the city has its own distinctive tone.

Many people, including some tourists, say the ban might turn out to be a boon for business. “I don’t like passive smoke in or outside a restaurant,” said Mona Farahani, a nonsmoking tourist from Sweden visiting Beverly Hills on Wednesday. She said that most European tourists, smokers and nonsmokers alike, “would come anyway” because of the city’s international cachet.

The ban also has its supporters among restaurateurs -- a fact emphasized by Jack Nicholl, a consultant to the American Lung Assn. of California.

Beverly Hills, he said, “is viewed as a kind of bellwether around the world.... You have all the big-name restaurants operating there. The fact that they could allow, and even encourage the city to adopt this ordinance, is great.”

Experience has shown, he added, that “most people, especially educated, informed world travelers, don’t have a problem waiting a couple hours for a cigarette.”

But plenty of Beverly Hills business owners and their patrons aren’t so sure.

The worriers include retailers who fear that smokers won’t only skip the city’s restaurants, but they’ll also wind up doing their shopping elsewhere in Southern California.

Glenda Lugay, owner of the Tres Jolie jewelry boutique on South Beverly Drive, said most sales at her store come from European tourists -- especially women, many of whose husbands have a smoke while waiting at a nearby cafe. The smoking ban is “ridiculous” and will “kill Beverly Hill’s reputation as a tourist haven,” she said.

Also fuming was John Iceman, a smoker for 15 years who was enjoying a drink and a cigarette at a shaded table outside the Golden Aloha cafe.

“I don’t know where else I’ll smoke,” said Iceman, waving his cigarette. “Lots of people smoke. The fumes of cars are worse than this.”

Down the street at the Coffee Bean, Cameron Hassid of Beverly Hills was upset too. Just before pulling out a cigarette, he joked that people should “smoke outside as much as possible before October.”

Still, the main concern among business leaders was about losing foreign tourists who aren’t accustomed to American-style smoking bans.

City officials said they don’t know how much of the $1 billion in annual retail spending comes from foreign visitors. But one clue of their hefty financial clout is a study showing that in 2004, international tourists accounted for 39% of the 5 million visitors to the city.

City leaders such as Delshad, however, expressed confidence that travelers -- many of whom spend 10 hours or more on nonsmoking flights to visit Southern California -- will continue to flock to Rodeo Drive and the rest of the city’s surrounding downtown area, known as the Golden Triangle.

What’s more, he said, “We did it as a matter of health, and not a matter of business.”