Advocates for a smoke-free environment for all workers are once again pushing for an ordinance that would ban smoking in public places in Augusta.
A nearly identical ordinance was defeated last year, but Augusta Commission members on either side of the issue say the new commission makeup leaves its fate up in the air.
The Richmond County Board of Health voted to endorse the ordinance, and Augusta Mayor Pro Tempore Corey Johnson, who advocated for it the last time, said he will likely bring it up in one of the next rounds of committee meetings to “start the dialogue.”
He said he expects the commission to take it up in late June or July and potentially pass it in August or early September.
Advocates of the ordinance, primarily the Breatheasy Augusta Coalition, said they are in a stronger place than last year because they have done more public education.
That includes television commercials and ads at bus stops and on buses pushing the issue as a matter of a worker’s right to a smoke-free environment, said coalition Chairwoman Jennifer Anderson, the director of respiratory care for Georgia Regents Medical Center.
A statewide smoking ordinance in 2005 banned smoking in restaurants and most public places that allow people under age 18 but left it in place in bars, she said.
The debate during the last go-around left the impression that the ordinance was trying to do away with smoking, but that was not the case, Anderson said.
“Smoking is legal,” she said. “We just want you to take it outside.”
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who opposed the ordinance the first time, said that decision should be left up to the employer and to the business owner. He said some bars have chosen to go smoke-free on their own.
“That is their own right to do that,” Guilfoyle said.
Anderson compared it to current health requirements that bars and other public places have to comply with, such as cooking food to a certain temperature and maintaining personal hygiene.
“We want people to wash their hands,” she said. “We want clean food. Why not have clean air?”
Johnson said the public education campaign could make a difference.
“I think we’re in a good position this year,” he said. Johnson said there are four new commissioners on the body that rejected it last year, which could change things.
“It just depends on how receptive the commission is on it,” he said.
Guilfoyle said it is harder to read this time around.
“The dynamics are totally different than what we had last year,” he said.