In July 2005, the Georgia Smokefree
Air Act became law. The intent of the law was to reduce secondhand smoke exposure for employees and workplace patrons.
Even though all Georgians are governed by this law, the 2005 legislation does not protect all workers and citizens from secondhand smoke.
It falls short of protecting a significant number of business employees, and employees and patrons at outdoor venues, community parks and recreation centers.
It is indeed a matter of individual rights, but the more important right at issue here is the right of children and adults to work in and enjoy public places and events without unwillingly being exposed to a serious health hazard.
IN 2006, AFTER the adoption of the Georgia Smokefree Air Act, the surgeon general’s report The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke revealed that smoke-free policies are the most economic and effective approach for providing protection from exposure to secondhand smoke. Recently, the 2010 surgeon general’s report How Tobacco Smoke Causes Diseases: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking Attributable Disease substantiated the previous evidence that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.
The 2010 surgeon general’s report describes in detail the ways tobacco smoke damages every organ in the body and causes disease and death. When individuals inhale tobacco smoke, either directly or secondhand, they are inhaling more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are hazardous, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer. The chemicals are rapidly adsorbed by cells in the body and produce disease-causing cellular changes.
The Augusta Commission is reviewing a smoking ordinance that has been discussed so far at two public hearings. The proposed ordinance will not eliminate smoking, but will restrict smoking in public places where nonsmoking citizens’ health is presently compromised because of exposure to secondhand smoke.
IT INCLUDES THE following recommendations:
• Restrict smoking at least 20 feet from all entrances: buildings’ windows, entrances or openings where smoke may filter into a building; outdoor seating areas; and
• Eliminate smoking in service lines where more than one person must stand in an outdoor line.
• Provide no-smoking environments in all enclosed places of employment that employ two or more employees.
• Restrict smoking to 20 feet from the entrances to public parks and recreation center and eliminate smoking inside parks or outdoor venue areas.
The Richmond County Board of Health urges the Augusta Commission to join the governments of our neighbors such as Savannah, Athens and Columbia County in Georgia – and Aiken, Columbia and Charleston in South Carolina – in adopting a meaningful smokefree air ordinance. This proposed ordinance will improve the health of those without protection under existing state laws.
(The writer is chairman of the Richmond County Board of Health.)