The decidedly-liberal City Council passed the measure (08-1544), which was originally requested by Council member Greig Smith to “prohibit smoking in outdoor dining areas” back in June of 2008. After complaints from cigar smokers, who engaged the anti-smoking lobby at committee hearings and lobbied furiously with funding assistance from Cigar Rights of America, the final version of the ordinance was written in a close-cropped manner:
These are important in that, as regards restaurants, some smoking-friendly establishments convert to bar status – with only age-18 or older admitted – during late-night hours, and smoking could be allowed at those times, and the exemption for private events held in outdoor dining areas of restaurants or other facilities preserves the ability to hold cigar dinners or other charitable events and have smoking permitted.
While the new ordinance is another unwelcome encroachment on the freedom to smoke outdoors – where there is no health risk from so-called “secondhand smoke” – the exemptions that were won demonstrated again how civic involvement and participation makes a difference. Council member Tom LaBonge, who personally refereed the arguments between the anti-smoking and cigar-smoking groups, said at the initial committee meeting on the Smith motion that the anti-smoking groups “would have success on this,” but recognized that the public’s tolerance for limits on smoking was reaching its limits.
Further, a long discussion about signage requirements under the new ordinance was resolved to no one’s complete satisfaction. There will be a one-year grace period, during which a sign must be “clearly visible and readable to a majority” of restaurant customers that a smoking ban in that area will take effect in January 2011 and then a permanent sign is required which must only be “clearly visible and readable to most diners in the outdoor dining area.” That’s quite a bit less onerous than other smoking-ban signage required in the Los Angeles Municipal Code and signals a very modest signage requirement that businesses must undertake.
In addition, the new ordinance specifies no enforcement mechanism or primary agency, which means that complaints will almost certainly be made to the Los Angeles Police Department, which will just as certainly place a low priority on such calls.
The fight by cigar smokers against the easy passage of this ordinance was successful in that the exemptions carved out of what could have been – and would have been – a blanket ban on outdoor dining areas of all types stand for the proposition that – at least outdoors – smoking is to be allowed in venues for which minors are not admitted. That’s important. (The City of Los Angeles does not control indoor smoking laws because of preemptive California-wide statutes.)
Just as crucial is that the enormous effort expended by cigar smokers against this proposal has left a much more dangerous motion by City Council member Bernard Parks essentially stillborn. His proposal, submitted on August 8, 2008 (08-2123), was to create ordinances which banned smoking in all places in which people might or could congregate, which would essentially ban smoking everywhere in the City except possibly in private homes. That proposal, likely submitted by Parks as an election-year idea in 2008 in his losing campaign to win an open seat as a Los Angeles County Supervisor, was cheered by anti-smoking advocates, but has gone nowhere in the 18 months since he submitted it. It could still be considered, but is most likely to simply expire on August 11 of this year. That’s good.