When Friday rolls around, Columbia County will find itself on a playing field that is a little bit more level.
That's when Georgia's indoor smoking ban goes into effect, along with a group of other laws recently approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.
Once the state's Smoke Free Air Act becomes law, smokers from Columbia County will no longer be able, for example, to cross the county line to fill Augusta restaurants with cancer-causing pollutants.
For that matter, smokers can't go to Grovetown or Harlem to escape the county's ban, either: While the cities are exempt from the county's ordinance, they have to comply with the state law.
But just because the playing field is a little more level, that doesn't mean there won't be problems.
For example, local ordinances take precedent whenever they are more strict. That means while the state law allows smoking in businesses that restrict entry to those over 18, that's still not legal in Columbia County. Nor can businesses here continue to permit smoking if they have a separate, enclosed room for smokers. State law allows it, but the county ordinance doesn't.
Though Columbia County's code enforcement officers will continue to enforce the county's ban, the state health department will keep tabs on violations statewide. The state director says they'll allow a three-month learning curve for businesses to work through any confusion - and with 26 local smoking ordinances in Georgia, there will be plenty.
The best way to cut down on confusion is uniformity. Either Columbia County should repeal its ordinance and let state law take precedence, or commissioners should ask local lawmakers to toughen the state law next year to bring it more in line with the county's ordinance.
After all: It's not good enough to just be on the same field if not everyone is playing by the same rules.
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