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Augusta leaders want community input on possible smoking ban

Smoking ban
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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, Oct. 7, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The city of Augusta is considering banning smoking in public places.

You have two opportunities to make your voice heard.

"If someone wants to come sit down and have a beer and get a cigarette," said Erik Dean, "It's not the city's place, in my opinion, to tell them that they can't."

Dean is not happy after making a big move in search of what he called a better life.

"I'm from California," Dean said. "You can't smoke in bars out there. Out here, it was a nice change of pace for me."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham is encouraging people to attend upcoming public hearings.

"After public comments, anything can happen," Brigham said. "This is an opportunity to have public input on whether or not we should tighten up on the ordinance."

Dean is convinced the tougher smoking regulations amount to government overreach.

"I think any government entity needs to be careful when they start inhibiting people's rights," Dean said.

"We do the things that the majority of the community wants us to do," countered Brigham.

"Every smoker that I know wants to quit some day," Dean said. "But in the meantime, if they want to relax and have a cigarette, they should be able to do that."

Augusta wouldn't be the first local community to tackle smoking in public places.

"It's the same ordinance that Columbia County has," Brigham said. "It is the same ordinance that Aiken County has."

Dean says following the bandwagon is no justification.

"For healthy communities we should encourage less smoking," Brigham said.

Commissioners insist this is not a done deal. They say the outcome will ultimately depend on the type of responses they get.

The first public hearing is 10 a.m. Thursday at the Augusta Commission chamber. The final public hearing is 6 p.m. Monday at Julian Smith Casino.