News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta commissioners got an earful as dozens spoke up for and against a tougher smoking ban.
It would put an end to smoking in public places like restaurants, bars and even city parks. Some city leaders want to expand that to smoking in cars as well.
"They're going to take everything away from you," said Amy Lewis who lives in Augusta. "You're just going to be sitting in your home naked with nothing to do."
Local people are fired up as the city looks to control where people can light up.
"It should not be up to the government to decide what individual business owners can do with their own private property," Lewis said.
The first public opinion meeting drew people from near and far to voice their opinions on the tougher smoking ordinance.
"I came all the way from Savannah to Augusta because this is really important," said Amy Hughes with Smoke-Free Savannah.
"The healthy choice should be the easy choice for the citizens of Augusta and Richmond County," said Sarah Balog with the American Heart Association
R.W. Mcclellan has owned a local bar for 18 years and says the city should drop the measure.
"Leave it alone," said McClellan, who is convinced the tougher ordinance would force him to close his bar. "Because we ain't going to have no customers."
Keep in mind Savannah has a similar ban on smoking in public places.
"Quite honestly that has not been the case in Savannah," Hughes said. "Our tourism economy is booming."
Augusta leaders are driven by numbers from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
"When non-smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke, after 30 minutes, of exposure their heart attack risk doubles," said Sarah Balog with the American Heart Association.
"Lung cancer rates are increased by 30 percent if one is exposed to secondhand smoke," said Eric Bailey with the American Cancer Society.
Commissioner Corey Johnson says the ordinance doesn't go far enough. He wants to ban smoking in cars with children under 18.
"The secondhand smoke in an enclosed space as small as a vehicle can be very treacherous on a child," Johnson said. "I know for me, I used to gag as a kid."
Lewis and others are upset about a move they call government overreach.
"It angers me that the government is making decisions for me and the individual property owners," Lewis said.
This was the first of two public meetings. The next meeting is Monday at 6 p.m. at Julian Smith Casino.