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Businesses that cater to smokers ask for changes to proposed Atlanta smoking ban

"No Smoking sign" by Indiana Public Media is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

"No Smoking sign" by Indiana Public Media is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

By Maggie Lee

Atlanta is all but certain to ban smoking and vaping inside nearly all workplaces, but more types of businesses are asking City Council for a carveout.

The new ordinance would ban smoking and vaping pretty much everywhere people work, including bars, restaurants and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There’s an exception for cigar bars and any other place that gets 30 percent or more of its annual gross sales from tobacco products.

It is “centered around the premise that it is good public policy to allow everyone to breathe smoke-free air in the city of Atlanta,” said at-large city Councilman Matt Westmoreland, opening a Wednesday morning public hearing on the proposal, which he’s co-sponsoring.

Much of the testimony in favor of the ban came from doctors, like Elizabeth Ford.

“There is no safe smoking level,” said Ford, who’s district health director and CEO of the
DeKalb County Board of Health. She’s also got the same job in Fulton County on an interim basis.

“The levels of asthma you have in here this county, you had about 8,000 emergency room admissions last year just to Grady alone for asthma,” she told Council. “Your mortality rates in Fulton are twice the rates of the state of Georgia.”

The ordinance would be a life-saver, Ford said.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Cancer Society are leading a campaign for the ordinance.

The idea is that it would reduce smoke exposure community-wide: to staff who work in smoky restaurants, and even to people who go into buildings where smoking has occurred.

Westmoreland said he’s not a proponent of putting Atlanta businesses out of business.

But some folks said their businesses would suffer as the ordinance is written.

Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said she didn’t come to Council to debate the science.

But everybody does things that can be detrimental to their health, she said.

“We have a number of business models in our city where patrons patronize establishments that allow smoking,” Bremer said, “but I think that these businesses that have invested, tens and tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars into a business model do have the right to survive.”

She asked for a way to allow smoking-allowed businesses to continue to do business.

Downtown’s Amalfi Pizza and Red Phone Booth are owned and operated by the same people — it’s a smoke-free restaurant upstairs and a speakeasy-themed smoking-allowed bar downstairs.

Because it’s technically one establishment, the owners are worried they’d be seen as noncompliant with the new ordinance.

“Please help us save our business,” said Greg Grant, president and co-owner of the Red Phone Booth Hospitality Group. “There’s a good way to rectify this.”

He said he himself has had congestive heart failure and is a non-smoker.

“There are sides of this that I agree with 100%, but as a business owner, this would change all of our lives,” Grant said.

The ordinance would need to get approval by two Council committees before getting to a full Council vote; and edits to the language could come along during the process.

At-large Councilman Andre Dickens, the other ordinance sponsor, urged the restaurant folks in the audience to propose some compromise language, but “that still doesn’t allow just any restaurant to set a box of cigars on the counter and call themselves a cigar lounge.”

Westmoreland said committee action won’t be taken in the coming week as conversations continue, but he did say he’s looking for committee votes as early as June.

But passage looks likely, as it was filed with seven signatures on the bill and it only takes eight votes to approve something.

Text of proposed ordinance



Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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  1. Andy Buppert June 11, 2019 11:23 pm

    I wish you the best Karen.Report

  2. Vinny Gracchus June 30, 2019 3:50 pm

    Reject this draconian smoking ban and keep designated smoking areas. Businesses should be able to accommodate smokers. This proposed ban is extreme overreach.Report


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