L.A. council extends smoking ban to outdoor cafes

Smokers in Los Angeles lost another refuge Wednesday when the City Council unanimously approved a ban on lighting up in outdoor cafes, food courts and around the city’s ubiquitous mobile food trucks.

With the move, city officials are following the lead of municipalities across California, including Burbank, Beverly Hills, Calabasas and Santa Monica, which already ban smoking in outdoor dining areas. California law bars smoking inside restaurants and bars.

The ordinance prohibits smoking within 10 feet of outdoor dining areas and within 40 feet of mobile food trucks.

Councilman Greig Smith said he proposed the measure more than a year ago after noticing that he was often choked up after being forced to walk through smoking patios to get inside his favorite restaurants -- a practice that he said was particularly dangerous to children. “We have an opportunity, folks, to extend and continue the great fight to get people out of the habit of smoking, to continue to protect the public health, which is really one of our main focuses and our responsibilities,” said Smith, who added he was contacted by members of the Legislature and officials in cities who hope to adopt similar measures.

The city already bars smoking at parks, beaches and within 25 feet of playgrounds, sports fields and picnic areas. No one appeared at the meeting to oppose the extended ban. The ordinance was roundly praised by representatives from groups including the American Cancer Society, American Lung Assn. and California’s Clean Air Project, as well as downtown resident Peggy Moore.

Moore said she and her neighbors enlisted lawyers and doctors over the last year to try to stamp out smoking in the outdoor cafes on the ground floor of her building. “This ordinance will help those smokers move away from under our windows, allow us to go back out on our open patios and participate in our lives,” Moore told the council.

Members worked with business interests over the last year to craft exemptions for bars, nightclubs serving patrons 18 and older, and venues holding private events. “We’re not happy to see any infringement of public freedoms and our personal freedoms, but we are happy with the way the ordinance was written,” said Brian Berman, director of membership at Cigar Rights of America. “We are happy we were able to come to a compromise.”

The rules will not go into effect for a year -- giving business owners time to post signs and explain the new regulations to their customers. “We want to be good for business,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, who shepherded the ordinance through the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee. “Restaurants, nightclubs are a part of our business establishment, but at the same time public health is No. 1.”

Smokers face fines of up to $250, but the measure will be self-enforced along with the rest of the city’s smoking laws.