Smoking Ban In Restaurants Essay Contest

As long ago as 1964, when Los Angeles banned smoking on its public buses, smokers started finding their freedom to light up constricted in favor of the health and inhalation habits of the nonaddicted. Since then, in a haphazard application of new health codes and public safety measures, smoking has been banned in many hospitals, restaurants, workplaces and all domestic airline flights.

In California, almost 300 local ordinances now restrict smoking in some form. Of those, about 100 ban smoking altogether in offices or restaurants or both. Partial bans in other communities have relegated smokers to special rooms or left them to huddle and puff in stairwells or outside their buildings' entrances. Many rules call for voluntary compliance. Some carry fines of $50 to $500.

In Davis, outside Sacramento, it has been illegal to light a cigarette in an outdoor cafe, a bar or any restaurant since February 1993. As a result, the city is virtually smoke-free. Even the most dedicated smokers cannot light up outdoors without first stepping 20 paces from their offices' entrance to protect the innocent.

Mayor Lois Wolk says, "We don't have smoking police and we won't have smoking police," but one smoker who lit up at an outdoor cafe was hit with a $50 fine after a citizen complained. Other than that single case, said Mayor Wolk, the ordinance has been both cheered and widely accepted. It is, she says, a grass-roots thing.

This September, Washington will become the first state in the country with a general smoking ban in public and private offices. "Second-hand smoke is killing workers," explained Mark O. Brown, who ordered the ban as the director of the Department of Labor and Industries. "I don't want the body count to get higher on my watch."

The labor department is counting on voluntary compliance. But based on an employee's call or written complaint, the department will send inspectors to a workplace, and if a pattern of violations is found, the department can impose fines of several hundred to several thousand dollars. Employers can appeal the fines to Superior Court.

While labor officials are prepared to punish errant smoking in Washington, enforcement elsewhere varies, falling to the police in some places, to the fire department in others and simply to the consciences of smokers in others.

In most cases, transgressions are handled through peer pressure and the occasional loud complaint. Often, the formal complaint procedure is so cumbersome it is ignored.

In Chicago, a Clean Indoor Air Ordinance would expand a ban to any public space. But a citizen must send a detailed letter of complaint to the Chicago Department of Health, and department officials concede that enforcement is both hard, and hardly a priority.

In some cases, a merchant might ignore a ban to accommodate clients who smoke. After restaurateurs and patrons complained, Beverly Hills, Calif., rolled back a 1986 ban on restaurant smoking; now a restaurant must be 60 percent smoke-free.

But if a powerful Congressman from California has his way, there will soon be a nationwide restriction on smoking, with a system of enforcement.

On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment begins hearings on the Smoke-Free Environment Act, which is intended to bring national order out of this haze of conflicting regulations. Endorsed by a disparate group of backers that includes Carol M. Browner, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Medical Association and the National Council on Chain Restaurants, it proposes to ban smoking inside virtually every building in the country, except homes, that is regularly entered by 10 or more people a week.

Smoking within those buildings would be permitted only in rooms specially built to accommodate the habit and its fumes. The measure, sponsored by the subcommittee chairman, Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, is expected to be ferociously opposed by the tobacco industry.

Under the bill, the Federal courts can impose fines of up to $5,000 a day on the building's owner if a pattern of violations is shown to have occurred with the owner's consent. A citizen can begin such court action only after giving the owner a written complaint and 60 days to comply with smoking laws. No fines can be imposed for isolated violations, and the complainant is not entitled to damages. The bill would take effect a year after passage.

Well in advance of national legislation, smoking bans have moved to encompass everything from school grounds to coat closets.

At Rodale Press, a publisher of health and athletic magazines that accepts neither cigarette nor alcohol advertising, smokers and nonsmokers are given separate closets. There, smoking has been prohibited at the company's 13 buildings for about 20 years, and most smokers leave the grounds to light up. A reward system with prizes like sweatsuits or sweatshirts gives extra points to employees who do not smoke and live in nonsmoking households.

"Smokers come here and I think they recognize they are going to be in the minority," said Patrick S. Taylor, a company spokesman. "When you get world-class athletes running at lunch, championship bicyclists riding bikes, people walking all the time, a cafeteria full of nutritional food, I think you get the message through osmosis."

Some companies and school districts have taken a more punitive approach. In Washington State, smoking on school grounds was banned in 1990, and in Seattle, the punishment for a student caught smoking twice on school grounds is a day's suspension. Bans in Tobacco Country

Not surprisingly, smoking restrictions have been slowest to arrive in the South, where tobacco is grown, an above-average share of residents smoke and the tobacco lobby is entrenched and mighty. But the bans are on the way.

The tobacco lobby showed its power in Georgia last year when the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have deprived local governments of the ability to pass antismoking ordinances. That bill was killed by Lieut. Gov. Pierre Howard.

But a similar effort in North Carolina backfired. When the Legislature there passed a law overriding local ordinances on smoking, more than 50 local governments took advantage of loopholes to preserve their right to have smoking restrictions.

In Atlanta, where smoking was banned in most public places last April, lighting up is not allowed in most areas of the Hartsfield International Airport. But last year, Philip Morris Companies announced a plan to build smoking lounges there.

In Kentucky, the fight continues. "We are at the very end of this parade," said J. C. Compton, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky chapter of the American Cancer Society. A bill pending in the state Senate would require all buildings with smoking bans to provide a smoking area. But that bill, Ms. Compton said, has been heavily amended in favor of nonsmokers. "Even though Kentucky is thought of as a tobacco state and tobacco continues to be important to our economy, there are legislators who will stand up and do the right thing," she said.

Smokers do not always agree that the "right thing" as perceived by Ms. Compton is the right thing for them. The Post Office, for example, forbids workers to smoke anywhere on postal property.

"We greatly resent the plan," said Rose Clark, an information clerk in East Lansing, Mich. "But we are allowed to stand outside behind the building, slime that we are, and indulge our habit."

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