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.”