By Tom Corwin, Staff Writer
The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to hold a work session on a potentially tougher smoking ordinance, but supporters got good news when one of the commissioners who opposed a previous effort said she would like to “broaden” the current law.
For the third time in the last three years, supporters of a smokefree workplace law approached the commission about passing it. Augusta is under a statewide law that bans smoking in places like restaurants where there could be children, but allows it in places that don’t admit anyone under age 18, which includes bars. The proposed ordinances would have banned smoking in all public places.
This time, Healthy Augusta, a coalition of 25 community groups, is backing the effort, said Dr. Selina Smith, the director of the Institute of Public and Preventive Health at Georgia Regents University and a facilitator of Healthy Augusta.
Previous efforts had been portrayed by opponents as motivated by outside groups opposed to smoking, but Smith said that is not the case. As a seven-month resident herself, “I am concerned about smoking in all public places,” she said.
Commissioner Mary Davis, one of six who voted against the last proposed ordinance, said she has looked at similar laws in Chatham, Clarke and Columbia counties and thought Augusta needed more discussion on what it wanted. That last time, the proposed ordinance “was an all or nothing ordinance,” she said. That said, “we definitely need to broaden the smoking ordinance we currently have,” Davis said.
That was encouraging to Jennifer Anderson, chair of BreathEasy Coalition that pushed for the last two tougher ordinances, as was the response from Healthy Augusta and all of its members.
“The community is behind it,” she said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, a supporter of a tougher ordinance, said Augusta is known for its medical complex but “we’re not healthy. Other cities have done this. Why can’t we do it?”
While acknowledging individuals have the right to smoke, the country also has laws to ensure public health, such as providing clean water and requiring people to wear seatbelts, Smith said.
“If smoking cigarettes only impacted the smoker, I think it would be a different story,” she said. “It still causes detriment to the person sitting next to you.”
Oct. 7, 2013
By Tom Corwin
Advocates for a tougher smoking ordinance in Augusta showed up at Augusta Commission committee meetings Monday, but its sponsor said they were two weeks early.
Members of the Breath?Easy Augusta coalition thought a tougher ordinance would be proposed Monday, but Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, who will sponsor it, said it will actually be in the second round of committee meetings in October, which would start Oct. 28.
The process will include a public hearing for people to ask questions and voice concerns, Johnson said. Most of the commission members know it is coming and “they understand how important it is,” Johnson said, especially because Augusta has an opportunity to become “the medical mecca of the South.”
Augusta is covered by a state law that prohibits smoking in restaurants and places that admit anyone under age 18. The ordinance proposed last year would have added bars and most other public places to that, but the commission voted it down.
In the meantime, advocates are busy trying to frame the debate in advance.
“We’ve heard a lot of people talking about this as a smoking ban, and that’s not what this is,” said Kirk Miller, the Georgia grassroots manager for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “This is not a ban on smoking. This is not an attempt to vilify smokers. What we’re looking to do is ask the people who smoke that they take it outside. This is really about protecting workers.”
Part of that is educating the public about secondhand smoke, said Jennifer Anderson, the chairwoman of the coalition. The group hands out materials that list the toxic substances in that smoke, which it says includes hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde and arsenic.
“If folks were aware of what the hazards were, they would be a little bit more vocal about secondhand smoke,” Anderson said.
Augusta smoking ban fails to get commission approval
Commissioners vote down attempt to toughen ordinance
By Tom Corwin
?The Augusta Commission snuffed out an attempt to toughen the city’s smoking ordinance Tuesday night, with many calling it a government intrusion.
Supporters still hope it can be brought back up. But for Commissioner Corey Johnson, who made the motion for approval, it would be “next year.”
Even after removing a ban on smoking in a vehicle with minors present from the ordinance, the measure failed 3-6-1, with Commissioner J.R. Hatney abstaining and only commissioners Matt Aitken and Jerry Brigham joining Johnson in supporting it.
The city is currently operating under state law, which bans smoking in public places where a child could be present but allows it in establishments for adults, such as bars and restaurants that do not admit anyone younger than 18.
Johnson had pushed for the ban in vehicles with anyone age 14 and younger, saying “the kids do not have an option” of not being exposed.
California and Arkansas as well as many cities prohibit smoking in a car with a child 14 or younger. According to an article published online earlier this month in the journal Pediatrics, the percentage of nonsmoking children in grades 6-12 who were exposed to secondhand smoke in a vehicle in 2009 was 22.8 percent, a decline from 39 percent in 2000 but still a concern to the authors.
Brigham argued the tougher ordinance would help nonsmoking workers in public places who might be exposed to secondhand smoke.
“I do believe that is a necessity for their health,” he said.
“We’re not saying people can’t smoke but have respect for people around them,” Johnson said.
Opponents said the ordinance was an overreach by government and would infringe on the private property rights of bar owners and others.
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said it would essentially force business owners to make their employees and customers stand out in adverse weather to smoke.
“That is intrusive on private individuals in my opinion,” he said.
In Georgia, Savannah bans smoking in bars and Athens-Clarke County, Decatur and Columbia County have all adopted stronger bans, while efforts have stalled in other places.
Advocates including Eric Bailey, Georgia’s advocacy director for the American Cancer Society, said they will not give up but know it will be a fight.
“It’s an uphill battle in Georgia,” he said.
Johnson said he had a feeling the vote would be split before the meeting, but apparently the support is not there to bring it up again.
“Next year, it may be,” he said.