Smoking ban advocates, opponents spar at Augusta hearing

Mary Reese (left), of Augusta, smokes with Faith Lokey, of Thomson, at the corner of Cushing Lane in Augusta.

Health advocates sparred with bar owners, smokers and Libertarians at a public hearing Monday about a proposed smoke-free ordinance for all public places in Augusta. The law could get approval as early as today.

Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, who attended the hearing, said they thought the proposed ordinance was on the Augusta Commission agenda today, though it did not show up on the version posted on the city’s Web site.

Bowles, a nonsmoker, expressed concerns about telling private businesses they can’t allow smoking and would like to “tweak” the ordinance to exempt private clubs and some bars. He conceded he might not be in the majority.

“I’m sure it will be passed,” he said.

The ordinance would amend the 2005 state law that bans smoking in public places but exempts bars and restaurants that do not admit anyone younger than 18. The new law would not only ban smoking in public places, but also outdoor public areas such as playgrounds and construction sites.

Bar owners predicted dire consequences if it is passed. The Pub owner Sheila Herndon said 98 percent of her patrons are smokers.

“This will probably shut us down,” she said, after 17 years in south Augusta.

Lora Scarlet Hawk, the Breath Easy Coalition manager for the American Cancer Society, noted that Columbia County, Aiken County and other nearby places already have similar laws.

Smoking actually might be a business advantage for Augusta bars, said Robert McGee of the Libertarian Party of the CSRA.

“Everyone comes to Rich­mond County to have a good time,” he said, so market forces should prevail in deciding whether to allow smoking.

Similar economic fears were heard in Savannah, Ga., which passed a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance last year, but they did not materialize, said Amy Hughes of Healthy Savannah.

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