The City Council voted Monday to postpone a decision on an ordinance which would dramatically curb smoking in local restaurants and bars.
The Council will hold a preliminary vote on the issue at next week's meeting.
At Monday's meeting, many residents, wearing "It's time we made smoking history" buttons, urged the Council to pass the controversial ordinance, which would allow smoking in only 30 percent of a restaurant's seats and after one year reduce the smoking area to 15 percent of the restaurant.
However, several restaurants owners vociferously opposed the ordinance, saying the restrictions would put them out-of-business.
Last night, several councillors expressed their support for a compromise version of the ordinance submitted by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
The compromise would limit smoking to 50 percent of the seating capacity of the restaurant and would allow smoking in bar areas of restaurants.
Restaurateurs and their supporters said their objections to the proposed smoking ban have nothing to do with an aggressive lobby by the smoking industry to preserve smoking areas in public places.
"It is not about tobacco companies...it's an issue of small businesses and their survival," said Helena G. Rees, public-affairs director at the Chamber of Commerce. "We've talked to restaurant owners and they say 'If you touch the bar area, we will go out of business.'"
Prior to last night's meeting, about 15 people gathered in front of City Hall in order to protest recent attempts by Phillip Morris Company, the country's largest cigarette manufacturer, to convince residents to speak out against the new ordinance.
A spokesperson at Phillip Morris yesterday refused to comment on allegations that the company had been targeting Cambridge citizens, citing a company policy against speaking to student papers.
The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the company has been telephoning city residents, asking them to speak out against the proposed ban.
Some Councillors and residents last night were angry at the company's lobbying efforts in opposition to the ordinance.
"I think it's not an appropriate thing for them to do because smoking ought to be prohibited in public places, and they ought to be cooperating in that rather than fighting that," said Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55. "I think [Phillip Morris's calls] made a difference. It impedes the process which I am sure will eventually succeed."
But Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio said that he has not been called by the Richmondbased company, and that he is skeptical of their influence in the process.
"I think any type of influence they attempt to have will probably not have the desired reaction that they want it to," Gallucio said. "People seem to be making up their own minds on this issue."