This report of the "round-table" meeting on Thursday, October 16 is taken from our sister site, CigarCyclopedia.com:
About two dozen advocates on both sides of proposed smoking bans in Los Angeles argued the issue in front of Council member Tom LaBonge at Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday with no specific resolution, but with LaBonge looking for common ground.
At issue were two proposals: a motion by Council member Grieg Smith to ban smoking at all “outdoor dining areas” in the city and a motion by Council member Bernard Parks to essentially ban smoking everywhere in public and in common areas of apartment buildings.
In favor of the proposals was the expected team of about a dozen representatives of various “health advocacy” organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and others involved in the issue at various levels of activism. A representative for the California Restaurant Association was also present and spoke about the view of the CRA board.
Against the ban proposals were two groups: two representatives of the Koreatown Restaurant Association and eight members of Cigar Rights of America (including this reporter, acting as an advocate in my home city).
LaBonge, council member for the Fourth District and chair of the relevant Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee for this subject, called the meeting after an initial hearing on the Smith proposal on banning smoking in outdoor dining areas to get more input from the business community. No decisions were made and LaBonge acted as moderator for the 75-minute session; no other council members were present, although staff representatives for some council members attended as observers.
>> The meeting was quite tense and there were some pointed comments on both sides. However, while both sides vehemently disagreed with the other, LaBonge kept good order and kept the focus on the issues at hand. Given the passion on both sides, the discussion itself was intense, but not raucous or out of control.
>> Most of the health advocates reiterated the standard litany of complaints about smoking, especially how important it is (to them) to avoid second-hand smoke. One speaker went as far as essentially stating that she didn’t want her daughter to even see anyone smoking. Another noted that she should be able to enjoy outdoor dining at any restaurant she wanted, without the presence of second-hand smoke; the implication was obvious that she had no willingness to concede that users of legal tobacco products had any right to enjoy the same privilege of dining outdoors while enjoying tobacco. A third complained that some smoke from the outdoor area might seep inside and be a bother.
More than one speaker emphasized that the percentage of smokers in Los Angeles is very low (about 14%), intimating that such a small population need not be accommodated. (It is worth noting that in terms of minorities, the percentage of smokers in Los Angeles is larger than the percentage of African-Americans [11.2%] or Asians [10.0%] in the City per the 2000 Census.)
>> Andrew Casana, representing the California Restaurant Association, said that the CRA board had instructed him not to oppose this ban and that the association’s posture has not been to oppose such bans after it had been beaten up by the pro-ban side in the 1990s. He was asked by LaBonge to provide the percentage of restaurants in Los Angeles which have outdoor dining areas now and which do not allow smoking in these areas as a crucial item in helping LaBonge to determine what the actual needs for legislation are in this area. Casana emphasized that in any case, however, restauranteurs would not support having any responsibility for enforcement for any ban which is enacted.
>> The Korean restauranteurs noted that after the indoor smoking ban was adopted in California around 1994, many of their members went ahead and built outdoor patios for their smoking patrons. Their view was that an outdoor dining ban is not needed, since people have a choice of sitting in a non-smoking interior section, or in the outdoor area. Some restaurants with outdoor dining patios have segregated smokers and non-smokers on the patio.
>> The Cigar Rights of America attendees included Executive Vice President Jeff Borysiewicz, who traveled cross-country from Orlando, Florida to attend the meeting; Eliot Suied of Kretek International; Pete Johnson, creator of the Tatuaje and La Riqueza brands, whose company is headquartered in Los Angeles; Michael Dougherty, area sales manager for the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.; Victor Migenes, owner of 2nd Street Cigars & Gallery in Los Angeles; Taz Ahmadi, owner of The V Cut cigar shop in Los Angeles; this reporter, and Victor Franco of Ek & Ek, who provided political counsel.
>> Among the points made by the Cigar Rights group:
In terms of common ground, the health-advocacy side pointed out that the Smith motion intends to allow smoking in outdoor areas of bars (as opposed to restaurants) and that “cigar nights” or special smoking events could be permitted. It was suggested from the cigar-rights side that a measure which declares an outdoor dining area as either all-smoking or all-non-smoking would ensure that no non-smoker would sit in a smoking area . . . and vice versa, and would be enforced by the proprietor rather than having to be enforced by the police.
What’s the outcome?
LaBonge, to his credit, listened carefully and was even-handed with both groups. He acknowledged that as a former smoker himself, he is sensitive to the issue . . . on both sides. He also noted that while a health argument can be made for the ban, the issue of choice for adults to be able to use a legal product is also compelling.
The councilman observed that while anti-smoking advocates have been enjoying a lot of success in promoting and passing smoking bans, the point where the interests of the anti-smoking lobby is now meeting resistance from those who prize their choice to enjoy a legal product - tobacco - has been reached.
Although his opinion is that the “smoking era is over” and that widespread use of tobacco (cigarettes, anyway) may disappear over the next 25-30 years, he was also clear as that as a legislator, that day is in the future and this is 2008 in Los Angeles.
LaBonge would like to find a compromise on the Smith motion for the outdoor dining area smoking ban that is minimally acceptable to both sides represented at the meeting and will be meeting with representatives of both sides over the next three weeks to try to cobble together an agreement. It’s worth noting that he also had the vibe, even from the anti-smoking side, that the Parks proposal for a total public smoking ban was “too overwhelming” for a city the size of Los Angeles in terms of scope, likely adherence and enforcement compared with the relatively tiny towns which have adopted analogous measures such as Calabasas, California.
We will continue to monitor developments on both of these motions.