UPDATE: Questions linger over distance for new smoke-free ordinance

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Monday, December 31, 2018
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Businesses are prepping for the New Year but once the ball drops so will the smoke-free ordinance.

The ordinance requires that you must stand with a reasonable distance from the building to smoke.

But reasonable varies from person to person.

Crossing into the street, one Augusta local offers a guess. “Um, maybe 20 feet.”

“I would say from the building,” guesses another woman.

Well it depends on where I'm sitting in the restaurant if I'm in the front of the restaurant, then it would maybe have to be out here,” she says as she begins to walk further.

"I think a reasonable distance is at least 16 feet away from the property,”

That distance brings us to the edge the curb.

“This is a safe distance."

But the argument for one longtime smoker isn’t the ordinance its not having a designated area.

With no parameters, the longtime smoker says he's bound to be too close to someone as he rides by on his smoke break.

“If that happens, then i'll just ride a little faster to get past that building,” he tells News 12.

So, what's reasonable?

"Oh, let me check,” chuckles one person, “You see what I'm saying?” He says standing off to the side of the building.

Officials aren't going use a measuring tape or a ruler but instead, they're relying on courtesy, consideration, and self-enforcement.

Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018
News 12 at 11

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Public buildings aren't the only places privy to the smoke-free ordinance.

Mayor Hardie Davis puts the pen to the paper.

"It makes Augusta a place of choice," he says.

He's signing the smoke-free ordinance into law and calling it a landmark move.

"Those individuals who smoke still can. Those individuals who don’t smoke are gonna be able to know that they're gonna be able to go into environments, enclosed spaces and won't have to worry that there will be smoke in the air,” Mayor Davis explains.

Local leaders also say it's been a long time coming the first shot at a smoke-free Augusta started in 2011.

Danielle Moores remembers it.

"We've had a few go-rounds where we've presented it to the commission, it didn't pass then, so now feels like the right time," she said.

The ordinance passed this go around on a 6-3 vote after two readings and dozens of bar and restaurant owners saying it will be bad for business.

Mayor Davis says that's just not true.

"We're gonna be able to continue to do business, people can still smoke if they want to but outside, not in the enclosed spaces and I think that creates a healthier Augusta."

The ordinance impacts a lot of other places too. Nursing homes, public buildings, and enclosed workplaces.

Hotels have a strict quota to meet with only 20 percent of their rooms being for smokers.

"It meets the needs of a growing community, a progressive community...a community that's bringing people in from across the world."

The ordinance goes into effect on January 1st of 2019 and violators can be fined if they're found smoking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News 12 at 11 O'clock

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- After a second reading, the city of Augusta is officially smoke-free. Augusta Commissioners voted 6-3 in favor of a smoking ordinance that would ban smoking in most public places.

Bar owners came out once again to fight against it.

"If I want to make my bar a non-smoking bar, I simply have to put a sign on my front door saying 'No Smoking is Allowed,'" said Bryan Birmingham, Owner of Allie Katz Bar and Grill.

It was a last resort for bar owners speaking out again against the smoking ban. Birmingham pleaded with commissioners to grandfather in bars that currently allow smoking, so they wouldn't be affected.

"What this body has consistently said is, you want to be about taking action," said Mayor Hardie Davis.

Augusta Commissioners took action voting once again almost exactly the same in favor of a smoking ordinance.

"We did everything we could," said Birmingham after the final vote, "The only thing we didn't do is, we didn't have a lobbyist group to go up there and jump in front of them. We don't have the money behind us the BreathEasy Group has."

"I think Augusta can now say it's a smoke-free city, so it's a great day for public health," said Danielle Moores, a volunteer with BreathEasy Augusta.

Commissioner Marion Williams spoke out too. He said he got a call from a commissioner in Columbus, Georgia. That commissioner claimed BreathEasy Columbus was giving out false information. BreathEasy Augusta said their information is accurate.

"BreathEasy Augusta is not the same as Breath Easy Columbus or Breathe Easy Savannah or any of the other Breatheasy organizations throughout the state. We simply adopted the same name," said Moores.

Legally, bar owners could try to challenge the ordinance, but they're hoping at some point they can qualify as a restaurant under the city's ordinance. That would allow them to open on Sundays. They say that's one small way to make up for what they hope they won't lose.

"Unfortunately I've got 14 employees. I may not have 14 employees in 6 months," said Birmingham.

The smoking ordinance officially goes into effect January 1st, 2019.

News 12 @ 6 O'clock / NBC 26 at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – Only two readings are needed to pass an ordinance, tonight Augusta commissioners made the controversial smoking ban final.

Similar arguments were brought up again and the vote was almost exactly the same except Commissioner Marion Williams chose to abstain from voting.

There were several bar owners that attended, asking commissioners to grandfather in bars that currently allow smoking. The ordinance already grandfathers in E-cigarette stores and hookah lounges. This was a final push for bar owners.

Commissioner Marion Williams also brought up a call he got from another commissioner in Columbus GA, the commissioner said BreathEasy was giving inaccurate information.

Breathe Easy Augusta did address that, saying although they have the same name they are a completely different group run by different people. They say all their information is accurate.

But either way, a lot of bar owners left today disappointed.

“It's a sad day for business in Augusta, you've got people that have no knowledge of our business whatsoever dictating how we are supposed to run our business; they’ve got no idea we’ve got multiple places where we’ve approved that the Breathe Easy group has lied to them. They don’t care, they just want to pass a law to say they’ve passed a law. Unfortunately, it's a very bad day for small businesses in Augusta,” said Bryan Birmingham owner of Allie Katz Bar and Grill.

In a 6-3 vote, the ordinance will officially go into effect January 1st, 2019.