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The West Hollywood City Council approved two anti-tobacco ordinances Monday. One is aimed at preventing young people from having access to tobacco products, and the other prohibits individuals from smoking on restaurant patios.
Councilmembers Jeffrey Prang and Lindsey Horvath introduced an initiative prohibiting local businesses from selling tobacco products within 600 feet of any school in West Hollywood. The ban applies to any business that opened after Jan. 1. Horvath said the measure is a safeguard to protect young people from being exposed to tobacco products and to cut down the number of businesses selling tobacco opening around schools.
“Over the last five years, there have been about thirteen businesses that sell tobacco within the radius outlined in the legislation,” Horvath said. “My intention with bringing this initiative forward is to make sure we are creating a healthy environment for young people.”
The initiative cited a 2004 survey from the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program that revealed 33 percent of tobacco sales to minors take place within 1,000 feet of a school.
The council elected to go with a 600-foot restriction because it provided more ample space between schools in the area without blanketing the entire city as a prohibited zone for tobacco sales.
Businesses that opened before this year are exempt from the ban, as are tobacco retailers that limit entry to customers under 18 and hotels that sell tobacco products on their premises. Prang acknowledged the exemptions may limit the ban’s effectiveness in the beginning.
“It’s not a perfect solution,” Prang said. “But we need to do whatever we can to reduce exposure of tobacco to children.”
The council did add some teeth to the legislation, removing a transferability clause that allowed businesses to transfer their exemption to a new owner if the business was sold. Horvath said that clause applied to about three or four businesses in the area that are selling tobacco and will no longer be able to transfer their exemption.
Requests for comment from representatives at Rosewood Elementary School and Laurel Elementary School were not returned. Both schools have businesses currently operating under the exempt status within 600 feet of their location.
The council also passed a smoking ban on restaurant patios in the city, but not without some resistance. Mayor Pro Tempore John J. Duran was one of two councilmembers who voted against the ordinance.
“West Hollywood has always been a very tolerant city on alternative lifestyles, whether healthy or unhealthy,” Duran said. “Smoking, whether I agree with it or not, is part of the public scene on the strip.”
Councilmember Prang disagreed with Duran’s assessment, and said protecting the rights of non-smokers is also a priority.
“West Hollywood has a long history of advocating for public health,” Prang said. “Secondhand smoke is unwanted by those who don’t smoke.”
Prang added that protecting employees from having to inhale the smoke was also important and no one should have to put up with it at work.
While the ordinance bans smoking on patios, Duran said smokers have a five-foot buffer zone away from the patio where they are allowed to smoke.
“We’ve just moved smokers five feet away from patios,” Duran said. “We’ve moved them from a place where smoking was contained to the sidewalk where their smoke can collide with pedestrians, and to think the smoke would not drift five feet is just silly.”
Bars, nightclubs and two hookah bars in the city would be exempt from the ordinance and Prang added that the ordinance probably contained more exemptions than ordinances passed by other cities. He also said that he expects the ordinance would likely be self-enforcing and complaint-based, leaving it up to the business owner to handle violators. If the owners do nothing, customers would be able to file complaints with the city. Prang said it was unlikely police would have to be involved in the majority of cases.
“No one is going to be put in handcuffs for smoking,” Prang said.
But Duran said putting the decision and punishment on the business owners puts them in awkward positions and added that enforcing the ordinance will prove to be difficult.
“You can’t put a police officer on every corner,” Duran said.
According to the legislation, violators would be given a citation but did not specify the amount.
The two ordinances will be reviewed again at the council’s next meeting Feb. 22. If no major changes are made at the second reading, the ordinances would be passed as laws. The ban on tobacco sales near schools is expected to go into effect in April, while the ban on smoking in restaurant patios will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.
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