Smoking ban going back to the Augusta Commission with potential tweaks

A proposed tougher smoking ordinance will go back to the Augusta Commission after a committee voted to move it forward without a recommendation after suggesting some potential changes. Commissioner Corey Johnson, the chairman of the Public Service Committee, said he thinks it has the votes to pass.

“I think everybody is pretty confident in it,” he said.

General Counsel Andrew Mac­Kenzie asked for guidance on a number of areas previously raised by committee members and public hearings. The new ordinance, for instance, would not affect electronic cigarettes.

“It’s not a factor in my opinion,” Johnson said.

Advocates for e-cigarettes say they do not emit a harmful vapor, while health advocates say they have not been studied enough and, because they look so similar to cigarettes, should be banned to make enforcement easier.

No one from the public spoke at Monday’s meeting, and none of the previous adherents and opponents appeared to be in the audience.

The proposed ordinance would also ban smoking in a vehicle with children 14 and younger, as Arkan­sas and California do. It would allow smoking on city property if it is leased or rented, but not in the building itself.

Commissioners debated allowing existing businesses that have a separate room for smoking with separate ventilation, whether to cover private clubs and whether to allow smoking in a bar in 20 percent of its outdoor area if it is at least half the size of the indoor area.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, who has voiced opposition to the tougher ordinance, said the city should draw a distinction between bars and restaurants.

“People go to a bar to drink and smoke,” he said. “They go to a restaurant to eat.”

While there might be “a few” that will not support the ordinance, John­son predicted that most will side with it.

“I don’t think it is something that the majority of the commission will have a hard time with,” he said. “It promotes a healthy environment.”

WHAT’S NEXT

The Augusta Commission meets next at 5 p.m. Feb. 21.

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