DeKalb bans smoking in parks

No more puffing away in DeKalb County parks.

A year after snuffing out an effort at a ban in all public places, the County Commission Tuesday approved banning smoking from playgrounds, parks and service lines such as for ATMs, effective Wednesday.

But smokers still will be able to light up in bars and strip clubs — the source of last year’s controversy.

“The best action at this point is to move in gradual steps,” said the health board director, Dr. Elizabeth Ford, who pushed for the ban. “Having our playgrounds and parks safe is at least a first step in protecting in our entire community.”

The move sees DeKalb following much smaller communities such as Alpharetta, Roswell and Marietta that have banned outdoor smoking in their jurisdictions.

DeKalb had been a leader in the quest to limit where people can smoke. In 2003, the county adopted an ordinance that bans smoking in all enclosed workplaces but exempts bars and restaurants where people under 18 cannot work or enter. Georgia adopted a statewide version of that law, the Smokefree Air Act, two years later.

Last year, though, supporters and opponents battled for five months about whether to expand that ban.

Supporters argued that second-hand smoke costs every DeKalb household $548 in direct health care costs each year.

Opponents, including owners of eight adult clubs and 20 other nightclubs, worried they would lose business if customers couldn’t smoke. Some clubs sit just a few miles from Fulton and Gwinnett counties, which do not ban smoking in bars.

No one spoke against this year’s effort, which focused on the less-controversial effort of stopping smoking in parks. In the wake of that move, some commissioners said they may revisit a ban in clubs.

“We are still not protecting the employees and servers in clubs and bars,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader, who tried unsuccessfully last year to give club owners two years before a ban would take effect so there would be time to convince neighboring communities to adopt similar bans.

Other leaders said they want to focus on the success of finally expanding the ban to an area they believe most of the community supports.

“I want us to focus on the gradual steps it takes,” Commissioner Larry Johnson said. “We are moving in the right direction.”