The Public Service Committee voted unanimously to forward it to the Nov. 5 commission meeting without recommendation after a vigorous debate centered around rights: For those in favor, the right to work in a smoke-free environment; For those opposed, the rights of private business owners to choose whether to allow smoking.
“I can’t support it because it goes against everything that I’ve defended for this United States of America,” Commissioner Alvin Mason said of his military service. “I just don’t believe that is someplace we need to be going as a government as it relates to private business.”
But Commissioner Donnie Smith, who has spent more than 28 years as a law enforcement officer, said it is up to the government to set limits that protect people, noting that it is legal to drink alcohol in a bar but not to get drunk and drive.
“We restrict freedoms to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves,” he said. “I certainly believe that we have a responsibility to help the people that generally have these jobs in these bars and these restaurants that can’t find a job somewhere else making a living wage.”
Government has the right to restrict its own property, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said. “But when a government starts interfering with private citizens, private owners, to me that’s a rights issue,” he said.
And if they succeed on smoking, will they be back to tackle obesity, Guilfoyle wondered.
“Probably next it will be our guns,” he said.
While people have the right to smoke, “that person who wants to smoke does not, does not have the right to contaminate someone else,” said Commissioner Bill Lockett, whose youngest son does smoking-related research. “Nobody is trying to take the rights away from a smoker. But we’re just trying to designate areas where the public is invited that smoking cannot be done.”
Amy Lewis, who opposed a proposed tougher smoking ordinance that was eventually voted down in February 2012, said she couldn’t believe the commission was debating it again and decried the “paid lobbyists” in the audience, one of whom works with smoking ordinance efforts in other Georgia counties.
“They are paid to sit up here and try to wreak havoc on different counties,” she said.
Jennifer Anderson, the chair of the BreathEasy Augusta coalition backing the ordinance, said she resents being called a lobbyist and she is pushing for the ordinance because she has been a respiratory therapist for 40 years.
“This is important to me,” she said. “I deal with people every day who have issues related to secondhand smoke.”
For Kirk Miller, the Georgia grassroots manager of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, secondhand smoke is also personal: He lost his father to lung cancer.
“He never smoked a cigarette in his life,” Miller said.