The Richmond County Board of Health voted unanimously Tuesday night to endorse a tougher smoking ordinance and to approach the Augusta Commission about enacting a stricter standard.
Currently, the city is under state law, which bans smoking in public places but allows it in bars and restaurants that do not serve anyone younger than 18, said Sadie Stockton, a chronic disease prevention/health promotion program coordinator for the East Central Health District, based in Augusta.
Advocates such as the American Cancer Society have formed a coalition that is targeting the state's larger cities to extend the ban to those businesses, said Lora Hawk, Breathe Easy Coalition manager for the cancer society.
Augusta was chosen "because you're already so health-minded," she said, with strong health care employment. The coalition is also targeting Macon and eventually Atlanta, Hawk said.
Savannah, Buena Vista and Morrow in Georgia and Aiken, North Augusta and Aiken County in South Carolina are listed as smoke-free in bars and restaurants by American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Outside of 25 states and territories that have smoke-free laws, 468 cities and counties have adopted smoke-free ordinances as of July 1, the group said.
In 2005, Columbia County banned smoking in public buildings, except private clubs, retail tobacco stores and certain outdoor areas. It extended the prohibition last month to outdoor areas of most county-owned properties.
In its model legislation, the coalition cites studies on the dangers of secondhand smoke, including the 2006 U.S. surgeon general's report that found there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Businesses might have to endure a little bit of a burden from a stronger ordinance, "but in the long run they will see the benefit," said Clifton Dennis, a respiratory therapist at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics and chairman of the CSRA Asthma Coalition.
There was a clamor from restaurants and bar owners in previous attempts to pass a stronger ordinance. A telephone survey of 828 Richmond County residents by the University of Georgia in March and April found that 82 percent think smoking should not be allowed in an indoor workplace, 78 percent think it should not be allowed in restaurants and 45 percent think it should not be allowed in bars or clubs.