In July 2005, the Georgia Smokefree Air Act became law. The intent of the law was to reduce secondhand smoke exposure for employees and 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.
WHEN PEOPLE’S health is at risk of being compromised, it becomes a public health issue. The Georgia Department of Public Health’s role is to ensure children and adults can play at, work at 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 U.S. 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. 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 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 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. The ordinance 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 entrances to door venues;
• 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.
Governments throughout the world – along with the neighboring cities/counties of Savannah, Athens and Columbia County in Georgia, and Aiken, Columbia and Charleston, S.C. – have adopted smoke-free air ordinances that protect the health of everyone. Richmond County residents and visitors deserve to breathe smoke-free air. A smoke-free air ordinance is a step forward to creating a healthy Augusta.
(The writer is district health director for Georgia Department of Public Health’s East Central Public Health District VI.)