Macon City Council is mulling an ordinance to one-up state law by restricting smoking “in public places and in places of public accommodation,” and though it was just announced at an Ordinances and Resolutions Committee on Monday, it already appears to have enough votes to pass.
The ordinance’s primary author is Councilwoman Nancy White, but six other council members are co-sponsors and Council President Miriam Paris said she’s for it, thus giving the measure a majority of the 15-member council.
It’s modeled on the rules that Savannah implemented Jan. 1, and goes “a little bit further” than Georgia’s existing law, White said.
“What this will do is make all bars and nightclubs smoke-free, as well as restaurants where children are served,” she said.
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Since 2005, Georgia has banned smoking in restaurants and bars serving or employing those under 18, offices, classrooms and medical facilities. Among other exemptions, state law allows hotels to offer smoking rooms and gives a pass to restaurants and bars which don’t serve or employ people under 18.
City Attorney Pope Langstaff said the proposed city ordinance would still have some exemptions and doesn’t ban smoking on streets like the laws in some cities.
Councilman Rick Hutto, one of the co-sponsors, said restaurants and bars would still be able to offer outdoor smoking areas, even if the smoking ban passes.
Other cities with similar rules generally say that such bans improve business rather than harm it, said Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, another co-sponsor.
The proposal drew immediate resistance from Councilman Charles Jones, who said smokers are already forced to hunt for a place to smoke. The legislation needs much more discussion and work, he said.
“How are you going to enforce it? How much is it going to cost?” Jones asked.
Councilman Virgil Watkins said the bill makes Macon police responsible for enforcement and includes penalties for noncompliant smokers and businesses alike.
White said, however, that experience elsewhere shows that such bans don’t take much enforcement and that businesses police themselves.
Council President Pro Tempore James Timley dismissed the idea as “frivolous” and said the city might as well order local factories to stop their chimneys from smoking.
The ordinance is an encroachment on private businesses’ rights, he said.
White responded that government already tells businesses what to do in many areas, such as food safety, so viewed as a public health issue, this would be no novelty.
Councilman Henry Ficklin, a co-sponsor, said previous restrictions on smoking raised a fuss when first implemented, but people rapidly grew used to them. He predicted the same with this ordinance.
The ordinance is ready for the full council to refer it Tuesday to committee for in-depth discussion.