Augusta’s smoking ordinance has been hotly contested in recent years as grassroots coalitions have fought to eliminate smoking in public places.
One is BreathEasy Augusta. Formed more than two years ago, the group has held several rallies in Augusta to raise awareness on the hazards of secondhand smoke.
On Monday, the Augusta Commission’s Public Service Committee voted unanimously to forward a proposed ordinance to ban smoking in public places to the full panel without a recommendation.
BreathEasy Augusta chairwoman Jennifer Anderson answered five questions for The Augusta Chronicle via e-mail, detailing the mission of the coalition and its goals.
Q: What is BreathEasy Augusta?
A: We started as a group of local individuals who were concerned about the impact of secondhand smoke in the workplace. Currently 27 percent of adults in the Augusta Health District are exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace. We are asking people to just take it outside.
Q: Why should Augustans care about the smoking ordinance?
A: Just as clean water and properly cooked food are concerns for every citizen, clean air is just as important. Everyone should have the right to breathe smoke-free air as there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Many people do not realize that secondhand smoke contains chemicals and gases that are unsafe at any level and have an immediate impact on their health within minutes of exposure. We are working hard to get that message to everyone.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between BreathEasy Augusta and Augusta bar owners?
A: Many of the bar owners are very supportive of the ordinance and some have already gone smoke-free. They have seen an increase in business, reduction in sick days of their employees and reduction in cost of cleaning and upkeep on their establishments.
Q: Wouldn’t the existence of smoking and non-smoking bars promote choice for consumers and employees? Should consumers and employees have a choice of going to or working in a bar that allows smoking?
A: Due to their economic circumstances, employees often can’t make that choice. And, once again, we need to look at the health impact on those who are not fully aware of the hazards of secondhand smoke and the long-term implications on their health. Arsenic, lead, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde are all toxic and regulated by OSHA in the workplace and are found in secondhand smoke. Not everyone is aware of the more than 4,000 chemicals and gases in secondhand smoke. In what workplace is this all right?
Q: Do you believe that BreathEasy Augusta is viewed in a negative light by those who may not understand the group’s mission?
A: Yes, that could be true. Our mission is simple. Clean air for all workers. Sometimes it is good to say what we are NOT. We do not want to vilify smokers, control businesses, ban all smoking or pass judgment on anyone’s lifestyle or personal choice. We are just asking that you “Take it outside” – simple!
– Travis Highfield, staff writer