For the second time in less than two years, the Augusta Commission rejected a tougher ban on smoking in public places that would have included bars – stunning a large group of supporters of the ordinance.
By a 6-4 vote, the commission dismissed the ordinance, with Commissioners Mary Davis, Alvin Mason, Joe Jackson, Wayne Guilfoyle, Marion Williams and Grady Smith voting against it. Commissioners Bill Fennoy, Bill Lockett, Donnie Smith and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson voted against the dismissal.
Johnson, the sponsor of the proposed ordinance, had been trying to table the proposal to do some “tweaks” to what it would cover. Kirk Miller, Georgia’s grassroots manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said there was some talk about exempting private clubs such as the American Legion, which made the group unhappy. There was also discussion about whether electronic cigarettes would be covered, which the ordinance included in the ban, Johnson said.
“It has to be comprehensive, and e-cigarettes have to be included in that,” he said. “Who is going to be determining what’s a cigarette and what’s an e-cigarette? These are the things we have to get worked out. We need to get together and talk about these things.”
Donnie Smith said the ordinance was 20 pages long and deserved further discussion.
“A 20-page ordinance that affects 200,000 people in this community cannot be debated in this forum today,” he said.
Instead, Jackson proposed an outright dismissal, which passed without much discussion about 15 minutes after the commission took up the issue. He did not return a call seeking comment.
“That was pretty quick, wasn’t it,” said Jennifer Anderson, the chairwoman of the BreathEasy Coalition, which had been trying to rally support. “This outright vote to just dismiss it is unwarranted, as far as what we’ve seen in our community. We had hoped we could discuss something of this nature and to hear all of the facts.”
Dr. Terrence Cook, a former Richmond County Board of Health chairman who has been working on a tougher smoking ordinance for Augusta since the 1990s, called it appalling and said other cities in Georgia have already passed a similar ordinance.
“Are we going to be the last community in Georgia to pass this?” he said, adding that it was embarrassing in light of the city’s status as a regional health care referral center.
Anderson said she is not shutting the door on trying again.
“I think they haven’t seen the last of it, and I will be supportive of the endeavor for better working conditions for any of our citizens,” she said.