Atlanta city council committees vote in favor of smoking ban in public places

Two Atlanta City Council committees have voted to ban smoking and vaping in restaurants, bars, at the airport, in workplaces and other public places across the city.

“Second-hand smoke is lethal,” said Councilman Matt Westmoreland, who sponsored the legislation. He is confident the measure will pass on Monday, when the entire council votes. Len Lichtenfeld, acting chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, is hopeful.

“We believe everybody should have the right to breathe smoke-free air,” he said.

The council's public safety and legal administration committee voted 5-1 in favor of the smoke-free ordinance, while the transportation committee voted unanimously in favor of the measure.

Councilman Howard Shook voted against the ordinance in committee, saying he is in favor of personal choice.

Smoking has “killed a bunch of people in my family. I totally get it,” Shook said.

But, he added, "I've always worried about the smokers and whether or not they have the right to socialize in a place of their choosing."

Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd said she worried about airline passengers connecting from international flights who “haven’t smoked now in about 14 hours” and may not have enough time during a layover to get to a terminal outdoor smoking area and then back through security. The airport currently has designated smoking lounges. Westmoreland and council transportation committee chair Andre Dickens responded that other international airports have similar no-smoking policies.

The latest amended version of the ordinance would also prohibit smoking and vaping in enclosed places of employment, outdoor areas of employment, public places, hotel and motel rooms, bars and restaurants including outdoor seating and serving areas.

Exempt would be private residences, tobacco and vape stores, private clubs and cigar bars. Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet said she also wants an exemption for adult entertainment establishments.

In response to complaints from business owners, language for the cigar bar exemption was amended to exempt bars that prohibit minors and generate 20 percent of their annual gross revenue, or at least $250,000, from tobacco product sales.

Red Phone Booth speakeasy founder Stephen de Haan said the modified language would allow him to continue to operate his business, including a cigar lounge.

Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer said Atlanta has about 3,000 restaurants, and about 50 of them, or less than 2 percent, permit smoking. Of those, 20 are cigar bars, she said.

For restaurants and bars that allow smoking, “it is part of their business model to offer that choice to customers,” Bremer said. She remains opposed to the ordinance.