Jennifer Losgar was working at a bar in Augusta to help pay bills and put herself through school when she found one night that she could not breathe. She had developed reactive airway disease and lost 25 percent of her lung capacity, and so had to find another job. That is why she showed up Thursday at a public hearing in support of a stronger smoke-free ordinance for Augusta.
“Some people don’t have a choice in where they can work, especially in this economy,” Losgar said.
Many of the 50 or so people at the hearing in the Augusta Commission chambers were wearing stickers in support of the ordinance. Opponents said the ordinance takes rights from business owners and smokers and would kill the bar business.
Smoking “may not be right but it is still legal,” said Taylor Bryant, of the Libertarian Party of the CSRA. “When you start taking choices from people, you start taking freedom from people.”
R.W. McClellan, the owner of Club Barcelona in south Augusta, said that eight bars have already failed in his area and that more will follow if the ordinance is passed, which will hurt wholesale suppliers.
“This starts a domino effect that will affect a lot more than bars, as well as the county revenue,” he said.
Smoke-free laws have a tangible benefit for health, said Sarah Balog, the government relations director for the American Heart Association’s Greater Southeast Affiliate. A 2009 study in the journal Circulation found that heart attacks declined by 15 percent in areas that passed smoke-free laws after the first year and by 36 percent after three years.
“Passing smoke-free laws in all workplaces and in public places is something we can do to protect the public,” Balog said.
State law already prohibits smoking in most public places but allows exemptions, such as for bars and restaurants that do not serve anyone younger than 18. The proposal would ban smoking in all public places and outdoor areas such as playgrounds, outdoor employment areas such as construction sites, and ATM lines.
“It really guarantees the right for all workers to breathe clean air in the workplace,” said Jack Padgett, a member of the Richmond County Board of Education and the Richmond County Board of Health.
Amy Hughes, of Healthy Savannah, heard many of the same arguments against Savannah’s comprehensive smoke-free ordinance before it was passed last year, including that it would hurt business and tourism.
“I’m here to tell you today that those fears did not come true,” she said.