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.