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Some Downtown Augusta bars opt for nonsmoking policy

Friday, March 22, 2013 7:21 PM
Last updated Monday, March 25, 2013 10:26 AM
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Plumes of thick, hazy cigarette smoke are a thing of the past at Joe’s Underground Cafe.

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Mary Lee (center) smokes as she talks with her friend, Sara Lewis, outside of Sky City in downtown Augusta. Lee, who grew up in Augusta and has lived in North Carolina for the last two years, said she is in favor of not smoking in bars. "I came back here, and I couldn't even sit in Metro," Lee said.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Mary Lee (center) smokes as she talks with her friend, Sara Lewis, outside of Sky City in downtown Augusta. Lee, who grew up in Augusta and has lived in North Carolina for the last two years, said she is in favor of not smoking in bars. "I came back here, and I couldn't even sit in Metro," Lee said.

Owner Jeremy LaFontaine said customers complained about smoke trapped under the cafe’s low ceiling. Eyes burned and breathing was sometimes difficult.

Joe’s Underground banned smoking inside the bar and cafe starting Jan. 7, one of at least two downtown Augusta bars to voluntarily prohibit cigarette smoking in recent months.

In February 2012, the Augusta Commission voted down a proposed ordinance banning smoking in all public places and outdoor work sites. The city is operating under state law, which bans smoking in public places where a child could be present but allows it in bars that do not admit anyone younger than 18.

CoCo Rubio was against the proposed ordinance, but recently prohibited smoking in Sky City, a live music venue he owns on Broad Street. Still, Rubio said the decision to allow or prohibit smoking should be left to the establishment, not the government.

Rubio has no plans to limit smoking inside Soul Bar, a nightclub he owns on Broad Street. Potential customers at Sky City, however, said they stayed away from the music shows because they didn’t want exposure to smoke.

“The response has been really positive. We’re happy with the move we’ve made,” he said. “You go to Athens, Atlanta, Savannah, really any city nowadays, and no live music venue allows smoking anymore.”

In the month since Sky City went smoke free, Rubio said he gained customers rather than lost business. Smokers still come for the music, and step outside the front door for a cigarette.

The decision was also made for musicians, who Rubio said do not want smoke to hurt their voices. LaFontaine at Joe’s Underground said he had some bands that would not book to play at the cafe because of smoke.

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, who supported last year’s ordinance, said it could be several more months before another ordinance proposing a smoking ban comes before the commission. There was no mandatory waiting period after the ordinance was voted down, but an alliance called Breatheasy Augusta is focusing on public outreach and education.

Eric Bailey, government relations director for American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, said bars that voluntarily prohibit smoking are sending a positive message that business is not adversely affected.

“It dispels the myth that it will hurt the bottom line,” Bailey said. “If that was the case, I don’t think they would be opting for it.”

Breatheasy Augusta will continue its advertising campaign and take time to educate new city commissioners before introducing a proposal, Bailey said.

Rubio and LaFontaine said they think it’s just a matter of time before a smoking ban is instituted.

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corgimom 03/22/13 - 10:58 pm
In any other business, owners

In any other business, owners are not allowed to subject their workers to known carcinogens without protection- but all the people that work in smoking atmospheres are stuck. It's the only carcinogen that people feel they have the "right" to inflict upon innocent people. We wouldn't tolerate that with anything else, but cigarettes are somehow different- but nobody can explain how.

Bodhisattva 03/25/13 - 04:23 am
Don't forget to add the

Don't forget to add the carcinogens, allergens, and obnoxious odors of cologne and perfume. As far as I know, unlike with smoking, the state has no law protecting us anywhere against these toxins.

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 03/25/13 - 06:14 am
Hale Tiki was non-smoking..

My bar was non-smoking and I was told how much it hurt it and that it most likely was one of the reason I only lasted two years.

Now, nine years later I see that it is "cool"

Story of my life; a day late and a dollar short.


itsanotherday1 03/25/13 - 09:05 am
Sounds like the free market

Sounds like the free market is working without government intervention. What is going to happen now is smokers will get more concentrated at bars that allow it, and any non-smokers left will quit patronizing those locations due to the overbearing level of smoke. With virtuallly 100% of the patrons smoking, even smokers will say ENOUGH!. Even without additional regulations (and I hope there won't be), I wager the only smoking bars left in 5 years will be a small handful of bars that cater to the older patron who is so addicted that they don't care if the smoke is as thick as 'Frisco fog.

LillyfromtheMills 03/25/13 - 10:49 am
I have a friend who plays at Joe's

They can't breathe - naturally - I can. And I can drink them under the table. BO - you should have invited us - I could have been the snake lady! And it's takes a good 5 years to get a business established. Ask Countyman - he knows everything and he hates us hahaha - Countyman - go have a drink and put on some Old Spice - get it -spice - bad joke

Dixieman 03/25/13 - 11:04 am
2,904,802 POINTS

This is the way it should be - each business makes its own choice. Then the employees and customers are free to go there or elsewhere. Nanny State stay away!

Dudeness 03/25/13 - 11:25 am
It does not matter whether

It does not matter whether not allowing smoking hurts the bottom line or not. Each business should be able to make these decisions for itself.

Rolling Eyes
Rolling Eyes 03/25/13 - 01:09 pm
Its nice that there are now

Its nice that there are now choices as to be able to visit a smokers or non smokers business. I for one, am glad to be able to enjoy a meal or a drink out without having to choke on second hand smoke.

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 03/25/13 - 07:59 pm
The thing that bothers me the

The thing that bothers me the most is that obnoxious odor of arrogance.... it usually permeates the air when near those who claim to have the most tolerance....

oldredneckman96 03/25/13 - 10:37 pm
Smoke gets in your eyes,,

These bars just incresed the customer base by three fold. remember, only 25% of people smoke.

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