Georgia State study: Smoke-free law hasn’t stopped smoking at eateries

The percentage of restaurants and bars allowing smoking has nearly doubled since Georgia approved a law a decade ago aimed at limiting smoking in public places.

Much of the smoking is being done in outside areas, such as patios, where children are often exposed to second-hand smoke.cigarettes

That’s the findings of a new Georgia State University School of Public Health study that looked at what’s happened since lawmakers approved the state’s “smoke free” law in 2005.

The law prohibits smoking inside most public places and sets guidelines for allowing it in and around places like bars and restaurants. The aim was, in part, to limit exposure to second-hand smoke. States and countries across the globe have passed laws limiting smoking in public places over the past few decades.

Researchers say exposure to second-hand smoke causes about 41,000 deaths a year in the U.S., and they estimate tobacco use costs Georgians $3.18 billion annually in direct health care costs.

School of Public Health researchers compared hundreds of responses from Georgia bars and restaurants, starting the year after the law passed and then again in 2012.

Researchers found that the number of dining areas where smoking was permitted without any restrictions dropped dramatically, from 28.4 percent in 2006 to 7.7 percent in 2012. Bar areas where smoking was permitted without restrictions also plummeted.

However, researchers found that restaurants adapted by merely designating smoking areas and pushing smokers outside. The number with designated areas more than doubled. Three-fourths of restaurants and bars that allowed smoking permitted it in outside areas, such as patios. While smoking is moving outdoors at many bars and restaurants, minors at more restaurants are being exposed to it, researchers found.

The study essentially blamed loopholes in the law, noting that it allows restaurants and bars to permit smoking if people under 18 are prohibited and if designated smoking areas are outdoors or in enclosed private rooms with independent air-flow systems.

“Our study shows that, despite the act, restaurant and bar patrons and employees continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke,” researchers wrote.