County officials pushing for a smoking ban in the coming weeks know they're in for some strong opinions on both sides of the proposal to prohibit smoking in all businesses including restaurants.
Josh Cathey smokes a cigarette after lunch in the smoking section at Evans Diner. A proposed county ban would prohibit
smoking in all restaurants.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We've got all the documentation to prove that smoking is hazardous in public places," said Columbia County Commissioner Tom Mercer, who is also the chairman of the county's Board of Health. "Even though you have non-smoking sections in restaurants, that doesn't shield people from smoke."
Statistics aside, Appling resident Susan Erb has her own thoughts on the proposal.
"I think it's unfair," Erb said recently while sitting in the smoking section of the Evans Diner. "Even if I didn't smoke, I'd still think it was unfair."
Erb said that many smokers enjoy a post-meal puff, and with the number of workplaces that have gone smoke-free in recent decades, lunchtime might be the only time to grab one for many employees.
"I think it would hurt a lot of businesses," she said about banning smoking sections.
A number of cities and counties are jumping on the smoking ban movement, with health officials citing concerns about secondhand smoke to patrons and workers.
In Georgia, 14 municipalities have passed some type of smoking ban in the past two years. Columbia County health board members began discussing a local ordinance after a statewide smoking ban failed to pass the Legislature this session. The measure passed the state Senate but died after never making it to the House floor for a vote.
Mercer said he wants to gather local input from residents about the idea before presenting an ordinance for the commission to consider. The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce also has sent out surveys about the topic to businesses.
For Bob Robertson, the thought of a ban brings mixed feelings.
"I'm a non-smoker but I have customers who do (smoke)," said the owner of Evans Diner.
Robertson said that when a previous owner tried dropping the smoking section, business took a noticeable hit.
Though he said he is sympathetic to non-smoking patrons and workers, he would feel better about it if Augusta restaurants were subject to the same rules.
"If Columbia and Richmond counties both did it, it wouldn't hurt us as bad," he said.
Terrence Cook, the chairman of Richmond County's Board of Health, said that based on Columbia County's effort, he would ask his board at its August meeting to consider a similar ban to the Augusta Commission.
Phyllis Roland, facility administrator at the Columbia County Health Department, called secondhand smoke a serious public health issue.
She said that at restaurants and bars, there are regulations for sanitation and worker safety.
"Why would we not want the air to be just as safe?" she said. "We've heard people say they can get another job, but that's easier said than done. Why don't they deserve a safe working environment?"
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