With a solid 44-7 state Senate vote behind it, a strong Georgia smoking ban bill should light up the House to follow suit. But not necessarily. Last year, the Senate decisively passed a similar measure - prohibiting smoking in most public places, including bars and restaurants - but the House snuffed it in committee.
The ban should have a better shot this year. Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, a physician who introduced the legislation, has really done his homework. Cash receipts, he says, have increased in communities that have imposed smoking bans, so businesses should not be hurt.
The Senate bill is tough; it would overrule weaker local bans and take effect July 1. Columbia County would be affected. Its recently imposed ban permits smoking in ventilated outdoor seating areas; Thomas' bill does not.
The House could pass its own bill and work out differences with the Senate. But it would be irresponsible of the House to bury it again without allowing a floor vote. As Dr. Thomas points out, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death - and it's expensive to taxpayers.
"Georgia spends $1.2 billion in direct health care costs every year on tobacco-related diseases," says the doctor. "The right to breathe clean air supersedes the desire of the smoker to smoke."
He puts the nail in the coffin of the argument that smoking in public places is about freedom, not health. No one should be free to choke persons in the room with them.