Originally created 03/30/03

Athens looks at ban on smoking



ATHENS, Ga. - Athens-Clarke County Commissioners Carl Jordan and John Barrow are planning to revive an 8-year-old initiative that would ban indoor smoking in public places - which could include most restaurants and bars.

The issue was first brought up in 1994 when the commissioners voted 6-4 to adopt the county's current indoor smoking ordinance, which requires restaurants to set aside a nonsmoking area. The ordinance exempts certain public places such as bars, rented banquet or meeting rooms, and employer-designated smoking areas.

Mr. Barrow, who headed the committee that reviewed the ordinance in 1994, said the current ordinance is a "watered-down" version of the ordinance he would like to see pass.

He said he believes the ordinance needed to be stricter because many nonsmokers are "driven out" of public indoor places because of the cigarette smoke.

Mr. Jordan said he plans to bring the topic up at the commission's meeting Tuesday, but only informally at the end of the meeting when the commissioners are allowed to talk on any topic not on the agenda.

He was quick to add that he could not say how the commission will choose to address the issue in coming months after it is raised at the April meeting.

"We don't know what's coming because we haven't worked on it yet," Mr. Jordan said.

He hopes to see an ordinance that puts stricter clean-air requirements on restaurants, bars and music venues, he said, adding that he doesn't believe it will have a negative effect on business if everyone is required to do it.

"Nobody is going to be out of business," Mr. Jordan contended. "I don't see it as a particular burden, and the net impact to the community will be positive. A lot of other communities are already doing this, and we're way behind."

The Richmond County Board of Health is considering a ban on smoking in indoor public places, such as restaurants and bars, but it would have to be approved by the Augusta Commission.

Gena Milton, the manager of Athens Broad Street Bar and Grill, said a total ban on indoor smoking would "kill" their business. Ms. Milton guesses that about half of her customers are smokers.

"A lot of people who come here smoke, especially at night," she said.